January 7, 2009

Nutrient Pollution Major Force Behind Increased Algal Blooms

An international group of scientists is linking nutrient pollution in the world's coastal seas to an increase in the number of harmful algal blooms reported in recent years. When harmful algal blooms (HAB's) occur, they taint seafood with toxins, cause human respiratory and skin irritations and cause fish or mammal kills in coastal waters.

In the December edition of the journal Harmful Algae, scientists present a compilation of 21 articles outlining the role of nutrient pollution in the increasing frequency of these events.

"Harmful algal blooms can have direct effects on human health and the environmental balance of our coastal waters," said journal editor and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science researcher Dr. Patricia Glibert. "By tapping the expertise of many of the world's leading voices on harmful algal blooms, this series of papers hopes to elevate this issue to the forefront of coastal management issues needing immediate attention."

The journal outlines several key issues driving the expansion of HAB's in the United States and the world.

  • Degraded water quality from increased nutrient pollution promotes the development and persistence of many HABs;
  • Understanding the complex relationships between nutrients and the outbreak of harmful algae is key to reducing future blooms; and,
  • New tools for monitoring and predicting these events can help us better understand HAB's.

This set of synthesis papers is derived in part from a 2005 symposium held in Baltimore, Maryland, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, as well as more recent research of the past several years. The symposium was part of the Global Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms Program, an international effort to bring scientists together from around the world to compare findings and to advance the capabilities to predict algal blooms. The next symposium on algal blooms and nutrient pollution will be held in October 2009 in Beijing.


Image Caption: Coccolithophore bloom off Brittany, France. The chalky white exteriors of single-celled marine plants called coccolithophores are coloring the water of the Atlantic Ocean bright blue. Like other types of phytoplankton, coccolithophores are a source of food for marine organisms. Though coccoliths are small, they often form large, concentrated blooms that are visible from space. On June 15, 2004, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of a bloom off the coast of Brittany, France. The bloom had been developing for a few days before this image was taken. Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC


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