Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Technology Helps Predict Harmful Algal Blooms

Algal blooms are explosions of algae populations that occur naturally when the optimal conditions for that species is reached. While some algae blooms are harmless, others are toxic to fish and humans; these are known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).  According to NOAA, " every year, harmful algal blooms cause approximately $82 million in damages to commercial fisheries and aquaculture, public health, and the recreation and tourism industries around the country, yet we don't have reliable ways to forecast and predict when they will occur" (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/homepage_stories/08_08_12aquaculture_esp.html)

However, a new piece of equipment developed by NOAA scientists may help predict harmful algal blooms before they occur.  The Environmental Sample Processor – or ESP for short – collects daily water samples and uses DNA probe technology to identify the presence of species that cause harmful algal blooms.  By receiving a warning that harmful populations of algae are increasing, fishermen and farmers are given more lead-time to prepare their sites or even change their harvest plans to avoid the bloom entirely.

By establishing a network of these ESPs, NOAA will be able to monitor large areas of water in real-time, communicating this information to the industry players whose livelihoods depend on the ocean. When combined with weather forecasts of optimal bloom conditions, this technology has the potential to save the US seafood industry millions of dollars annually.

The NOAA press release is available here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/homepage_stories/08_08_12aquaculture_esp.html