Keeping up with HABs

Posted by: Sam Meehan

If you keep up with things here at Ocean Champions (and we hope you do!) you’re probably already aware that harmful algal blooms (HABs) are one of our primary concerns. It’s easy to see why: HABs are bad for everyone and everything involved. Affecting both fresh and saltwater, HABs can paralyze fishing and shellfish industries, drive off tourists, and sicken or even kill pets and people. According to the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, HABs are responsible for nearly $100 million in economic damages every year.

Harmful algal blooms can occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes forming naturally, HABs can also bloom when human activity adds excess nutrients like phosphorus to waterways. Algae feed on these nutrients and, like a ‘50s monster movie, can grow to massive sizes, like this one in New Jersey last summer. Once they bloom, HABs can cause problems in two ways. Certain species of algae can produce neurotoxins that can render seafood inedible, irritate skin and eyes, or in rare instances sicken or kill. The other problem occurs when millions of algae, which have a very short lifespan, die and sink. The subsequent decomposition sucks oxygen from the water, resulting in an environment unable to sustain life – a phenomenon known as hypoxia. It also appears that hypoxic “dead zones” are expanding and HABs are increasing in number and intensity. This past year, in one of the worst HABs in decades, Lake Erie was carpeted with toxic green algae for months. In Texas’ recent brutal drought conditions, a monstrous HAB formed on the coast, ruining the state’s valuable oyster catch and keeping beach-going tourists away for months.

On October 13th, 2011 Senator and Ocean Champion Olympia Snowe introduced S. 1701, also known as the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2011. The bill, co-sponsored Ocean Champions Mark Begich, Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Bill Nelson, Sheldon Whitehouse, and five other Senators, is designed to develop and implement national strategies and regional action plans to combat harmful algal blooms in our oceans and waterways. The bill will also improve research and increase coordination among the organizations charged with implementing the strategy. On November 2, 2011, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee moved the bill out of committee and recommended it for consideration by the full Senate. The House version of the bill, H.R. 2484, has similarly survived committee. For a quick and easy way to tell your Representatives to get behind these bills to protect our water, wildlife, and economy, visit our Take Action page now!

Date Posted: February 15, 2012 @ 3:46 pm Comments Off

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