NOAA Helping Washington State Monitor Algae Bloom

NOAA announced it is committing $88,000 in grant and event response funding to monitor and analyze an unusually large bloom of toxic algae off the state's coast.

NOAA has committed $88,000 in grant and event response funding to monitor and analyze an unusually large bloom of toxic algae off Washington state's coast, the agency announced last week.

These blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia can produce a toxin that can be harmful to people, fish, and marine mammals. The state has had to close fisheries this year because of it. In May, the razor clam fishery closed, resulting in an estimated $9.2 million in lost income, and the state's commercial crab fishery, worth roughly $84 million annually, also has been affected, according to the U.S. Commerce Department agency.

NOAA reports that such blooms "have been occurring along the entire West Coast from southern California to Alaska since May 2015, prompting public health concerns. Some species of Pseudo-nitzschia create a strong neurotoxin, domoic acid, which accumulates in filter-feeding fish, such as anchovies, and shellfish, and can affect marine mammals such as sea lions. Also, seafood contaminated with domoic acid can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, a severe illness that can cause permanent short-term memory loss, brain damage, or death, in severe cases. When domoic acid exceeds regulatory limits, state officials close shellfish beds and certain fishing areas.

A $75,000 grant is going to the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems for monitoring the bloom in Washington State, and $13,000 will support data collection efforts will be distributed among multiple partners. Matching funds and services of approximately $100,000 will come from partners in support of the effort. "Providing communities in Washington with early warnings is essential to helping them plan for something like this," said Mary Erickson, director of NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, which is providing funding. "Improved understanding of the causes of this event will lead to better bloom prediction, which is part of a larger NOAA effort to develop ongoing ecological forecast."