President Obama Signs Legislation to Combat Toxic Algal Blooms that Kill Manatees, Fish, Sea Lions and Contaminate Seafood and Beaches
June 30, 2014
Statement by Marine Biologist David Wilmot, Ph.D., President of Ocean Champions
President Obama signed legislation today to combat the serious problem of toxic algal blooms affecting our oceans, beaches, rivers and lakes.
This effort has long been a top priority of Ocean Champions, who has worked closely with many Congressional allies, including Senator Bill Nelson (FL), Senator Rob Portman (OH), Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR) and others to pass this legislation.
This bill provides a major boost to the battle against the harmful algae blooms that are wreaking havoc on oceans, lakes and streams. Fish, manatees, dolphins, sea lions, birds and pets are dying. People swimming in contaminated water are getting sick. Warning signs have been posted at a growing number of beaches. Health officials are telling people to avoid certain types of seafood coming from affected water. Fishermen are sidelined and tourists are driven away.
The frequency and intensity of algal blooms is increasing across the United States. A major bloom has been occurring in eastern Lake Erie. A dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is predicted to be as large as the state of Connecticut this summer. The major dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay is continuing to expand. This spring levels of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin that can be lethal and is a byproduct of algal blooms, has been found at record levels in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Many wonder if Florida will be hard hit again this year. Toxic algae has killed hundreds of Florida manatees and affected many areas. Stuart was said to have a "lost summer" in 2013.
All told, it has been estimated that harmful algae blooms are costing our country nearly $100 million a year.
We're very grateful that Congress has passed this bill. It's the only stand-alone oceans conservation legislation passed by this Congress and signed by President Obama.
This bipartisan bill will improve our ability to predict and respond to harmful algal blooms. It will help scientists and others find ways to reduce the duration and intensity of the outbreaks. And it provides for more monitoring and research into what causes the blooms of algae so we can help reduce their occurrence. The bill will benefit swimmers, surfers, fishermen, wildlife, pets and everyone who cares about the health of oceans, lakes and streams.
Blooms can come from algae that range from microscopic single-celled organisms to macroscopic seaweed, and cause harm through the production of toxins or by accumulation of the plants. These outbreaks are commonly called "red" or "brown" tides (because the water turns reddish or brown), but the term Harmful Algal Blooms is more accurate. Some harmful algal blooms produce toxins that can kill fish, shellfish, birds, and marine mammals. By eating fish or shellfish contaminated by toxic algae or by inhaling airborne toxins, people can become sick, and in rare instances, die. Even when a toxin is not produced harmful algal blooms can be deadly when overgrowth alters marine habitats by blocking light, clogging fish gills or smothering corals or other life. In addition, when large blooms die and decompose, the oxygen is stripped from the water resulting in uninhabitable "dead zones" (hypoxia). Nitrogen pollution and excess nutrients are known to cause many harmful algal blooms and "dead zones."
Toxic Tides (Harmful Algal Blooms)
In 2010, The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act was introduced, and we worked hard with our champions to pass it in the House. Unfortunately it ran out of time in the Senate. In 2012, we came even closer to passing it in the Senate. Good bills often take a few cycles to pass, however, and after knocking on the door in the last two Congresses, we’re working diligently with our ocean champions to blow the door open and ensure the HABs bill’s passage in the current congress!
The HABs bill will develop and implement a national strategy and regional action plans to combat harmful algal blooms in our oceans and waterways.
Harmful algal blooms, which often produce a toxin and occur in both salt and fresh water, are known to kill fish, marine mammals, and birds; they can contaminate shellfish with toxins and harm human health, sometimes resulting in fatalities. They shut down fisheries, sideline fishermen and drive tourists away from resorts. Researchers have estimated that HABs cost coastal communities nearly $100 million annually.
Most recently, in March of 2013, a record number of Florida’s endangered manatees died due to a toxic algal bloom. Though an algal bloom is expected every year off the coast of Florida, this is the worst to date.
For more information:
- Ocean Champions HABs Overview
- List of 2009-2013 HAB outbreaks as reported
- NOAA's National Ocean Service Harmful Algal Blooms Pages
- EPA info on HABS
- Realtime maps of HABs in Chesapeake Bay
- Forecasting Toxic Algal Blooms in California
- California Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring and Alert Program
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's Harmful Algal Blooms Pages
- The Woods Hole Oceanographic Insitute's Harmful Algae Pages
- Surfrider Foundation's Beachapedia, the coastal knowledge resource
- September, 2010 Interagency Working Group Report on Harmful Algal Blooms, Hypoxia, and Human Health