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NEW HARMFUL ALGAE BLOOM LEGislation introduced in u.s. senate

 

May 6, 2009

New Harmful Algal Bloom Legislation has been introduced in the United States Senate.

Last week, Senator Snowe (R) from Maine, along with seven other Senators including Senator Nelson (D) from Florida introduced the Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2009.

This bill would enhance existing research programs established in the original 1998 bill and will develop and promote a comprehensive plan for a national strategy to address HABs and hypoxia through baseline research, forecasting and monitoring. It will also address mitigation and control by helping communities detect, control and mitigate coastal algal bloom and hypoxia events.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Harmful Algal Blooms are blooms of species of algae that have negative impacts on humans, marine environments, and/or coastal economies. HABs include blooms of both microalgae (microscopic, single-celled) and macroalgae (seaweeds).” While there are many different forms of both, our most common – red tide and red drift algae – are both considered HABs.

In her remarks to introduce the bill Senator Snowe said that this program has “greatly enhanced our ability to predict outbreaks of harmful algal blooms and the extent of hypoxic zones. But knowing when outbreaks will occur is only half the battle.”

This bill will take the program to its next logical step. It will provide funding for additional research into mitigation and prevention of HABs and hypoxia, and will enable communities like Sanibel, Lee County and others in Southwest Florida and around the nation to develop response strategies to more effectively reduce their effects on our coastal communities. Senator Snowe went on to say, “While we have made great strides in bloom prediction and monitoring, it is clear that these problems have not gone away, but rather increased in magnitude. Harmful algal blooms remain prevalent nationwide, and areas of hypoxia, also known as ‘dead zones’ are now occurring with increasing frequency.” 

 

She continued, “The amendments contained in this legislation would enhance the nation’s ability to predict, monitor, and ultimately control harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. Understanding when these blooms will occur is vital, but the time has come to take this program to the next level—to determine not when an outbreak will occur, but how to reduce its intensity or prevent its occurrence altogether. This bill would build on NOAA’s successes in research and forecasting by creating a program to mitigate and control HAB outbreaks.”

Most importantly for communities like Sanibel, this bill recognizes the need to improve coordination between state and local resource managers. These are the people who are on the front lines, the people who make the decisions to close beaches, fishing areas and shellfish beds.  While of course these decisions are important to protect human health and life they also have significant economic impacts.

To do this, the bill would “mandate creation of Regional Research and Action Plans that would identify baseline research, possible state and local government actions to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of HABs, and establish outreach strategies to ensure the public is informed of the dangers these events can present. A regional focus on these issues will ensure a more effective and efficient response to future events.”

We at PURRE have been talking to Congress about HAB legislation for more than two years now. This bill was developed with the cooperation and coordination with PURRE and other stakeholders around the country. Now that we have a bill in the Senate PURRE will continue to work on its passage and hopefully its implementation.

While there is no companion bill in the House we are working with the House Science Committee to have this bill introduced in that body. As you may recall we were successful last year in working with the Committee to get a hearing on HABs to discuss the extent of the problem.

We will be meeting later this month with both House and Senate staff to continue our efforts to move this legislation.

May 11, 2009

HARMFUL ALGAL BLOOMS:

WHAT ARE THEY?

The above article is about a new bill in the United States Senate which will authorize money for research and to help communities like ours manage the effects of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). What follows is some more information about HABs. This information comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

According to NOAA ,“Harmful Algal Blooms are blooms of species of algae that have negative impacts on human, marine environments, and/or coastal economies. HABs include blooms of both microalgae (microscopic, single celled) and macroalgae (seaweeds).” While there are many different forms of both, the most common for us are red tide and red drift algae.

Most algae are very important to salt and fresh water ecosystems and most species are not harmful.  however, Harmful Algal Blooms have been reported in almost every U.S. coastal state and according to NOAA they are on the rise. So while we have seen HABs in our waters over the years, and in particular red drift algae, as seen in this photo from 2007, this is a national issue.

This is a photo of the public beach at the end

of Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel, looking east. It was taken on January 17, 2007.

Another problem with HABs is oxygen depletion. They can block sunlight that other organisms need to live, and some HAB-causing algae release toxins that are dangerous to animals and humans. It is only a small percentage of algae that produce toxins that can kill fish, shellfish, and other marine life. These can also cause illness in people. Again these are rare but can be debilitating or even fatal.

According to the CDC, “Scientists do not yet understand fully how HABs affect human health. Authorities in the United States and abroad are monitoring HABs and developing guidelines for HAB-related public health action. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added certain algae associated with HABs to its Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List. This list identifies organisms and toxins that EPA believes are priorities for investigation.”

The CDC works with public health agencies, universities, and federal partners to investigate how the following algae, which can cause HABs, may affect public health:

  • Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, can produce toxins that may taint drinking water and recreational water. Humans who drink or swim in water that contains high concentrations of cyanobacteria or cyanobacterial toxins may experience gastroenteritis, skin irritation, allergic responses, or liver damage.
     
  • Harmful marine algae, such as those associated with red tides, occur in the ocean and can produce toxins that may harm or kill fish and marine animals. Humans who eat shellfish containing toxins produced by these algae may experience neurologic symptoms (such as tingling fingers or toes) and gastrointestinal symptoms. Breathing air that contains toxins from algae associated with red tide may cause susceptible individuals to have asthma attacks.
     
  • Pfiesteria piscicida, a single-celled organism that lives in estuaries, has been found near large quantities of dead fish. Scientists do not yet know whether P. piscicida affects human health. However, reports about symptoms such as headache, confusion, skin rash, and eye irritation in humans exposed to water containing high concentrations of P. piscicida have prompted public concern.”

There is a lot we don’t know about HABs and both CDC and NOAA are working hard to learn more. According to NOAA, “The factors controlling HAB development and decline are not well understood for many harmful species. In general, algal growth is enhanced when environmental conditions (such as light, temperature, salinity, and nutrient availability) are optimal for growth.”   Many believe the increased nutrients in our waters from pollution are a significant contributing factor to the growth of both red tide and red drift algae.

Also from NOAA, “Perhaps the best known HAB is the ‘red tide’ that occurs nearly every summer along Florida’s Gulf Coast and that Spanish explorers first observed in the 16th century! The organism that causes the Florida red tide (which may not always appear red), a microscopic alga called Karenia brevis, produces a toxin that makes shellfish dangerous to eat. It also kills fish, and in some instances, dolphins and manatees. It may also make the surrounding air difficult to breathe due to aerosolized toxins. Scientists have been monitoring and studying the phenomenon for a number of years to determine how to detect and forecast the location of the blooms. The goal is to give communities advance warnings so they can adequately plan and deal with the adverse environmental and health effects associated with these red tide events.”

HABs can also have an economic impact. It is estimated that “they cause, on average, about $82 million in economic impacts to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year. HABs reduce tourism, close beaches and shellfish beds, and decrease the catch from both recreational and commercial fisheries.”

The new bill in the Senate is a reauthorization of the original Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act which was signed into law on November 13, 1998, and was reauthorized in December 2004. “The Act recognized that many U.S. coastal areas suffer from HABs and hypoxia each year, threatening coastal ecosystems and endangering human health”

This new bill will expand the program so that communities can better predict HAB events and manage the impact.

 

PURRE Water Coalition

New Address:

2340 Periwinkle Way, J-2

Sanibel, FL 33957

239.472.2703 ... FAX 239.472.2365

info@purre.org ... www.purre.org

 

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"We must build a peace in South Florida - a peace between the people and their place, between the natural environment and man-made settlement, between the works of man and the life of mankind itself. "
~ Florida Gov. Reubin Askew ~