Armed with sample jars, microscopes, and new federal grants,
marine scientists are embarking on the most ambitious effort in US
history to turn the tide against harmful algae blooms along the
Sudden explosions in the number of tiny plankton - sometimes
visible as "red" or "brown" tides - kill or contaminate fish and
shellfish by the millions, undermining ocean-based economies and
posing public-health risks.
Around the world, researchers have been trying to curb the
spread of harmful blooms using everything from powdered clay to
algae-eating clams. Now the US is joining the effort with a
$15-million research effort that will utilize such things as
satellites and sophisticated computer models. Led by the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the program
represents the federal government's first major attempt to tackle a
problem that many marine biologists say is getting worse.
The objective is to learn as much as possible about the
factors that give rise to harmful algae blooms. Ultimately,
researchers hope to develop quick means of identifying,
forecasting, and dissipating blooms.
"There's pretty good evidence that blooms are spreading,"
says Percy Donaghay, a senior marine-research scientist at the
University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography.
THE scientific assault comes at a time of heightened
congressional interest in the ocean's microscopic malefactors. This
summer, blooms of a relatively new species of plankton - Pfisteria
piscicida - triggered a substantial fish kill in Chesapeake Bay,
one of Washington's favorite playgrounds. Tomorrow, the House
Subcommittee on Wildlife and Oceans is scheduled to hold hearings
on the outbreak.
Marine scientists note that the Chesapeake Bay outbreak has
highlighted the significance of a recurring problem that stretches
from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond. In some
cases, blooms of harmful algae are increasing. In many others,
researchers are discovering additional species that are toxic.
"We're starting to define the boundaries of the problem much
better, and they're big boundaries," says Don Anderson, a senior
scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods
Initially, the new research effort is focusing on three
targets: the Gulf of Maine, Florida's Gulf coast, and waters off
Long Island, according to Leon Cammen, with NOAA's National Sea
Grant Program Office. …