Help is on the Way:
New NOAA-Funded Research Partnership Will Aid Long Island Communities and NY’s Shellfish Industry Impacted by Toxic Algal Blooms
Researchers receive over $125K of an anticipated $600,000, multi-year research grant
Ms. Barbara A. Branca, NYSG, P:631-632-6956, E: Barbara.Branca@stonybrook.edu
Dr. Christopher J. Gobler, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, P: 631-632-5043
Stony Brook, NY, November 7, 2011 - Federal officials announced this week that researchers helping to mitigate the effects of harmful algal blooms on New York communities bordering Long Island Sound were awarded first-year funds of an anticipated $600,000, multi-year research grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) research program.
Starting this fall, Dr. Christopher J. Gobler, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences will lead partners Dr. Karen Chytalo, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and Dr. Steve Morton, Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, as they begin investigating enhanced water monitoring technologies and early warning methods to help the state respond to a growing toxic algae bloom problem. By partnering with NYSDEC, the state agency responsible for shellfish sanitation, the findings will reinforce New York’s rigorous harmful algal bloom monitoring programs that ensure safe seafood and protect public health. This work will enable consumers of New York shellfish to continue be confident in the quality of the local seafood they enjoy and enable New York to safeguard a commercial industry generating $19 million per year.
In five of the last six years, blooms of the “red tide” organism Alexandrium fundyense and high levels of PSP toxin in shellfish
forced the closure of nearly 7,500 acres of prime shellfish beds on Huntington Bay and Northport Bay on Long Island’s north shore. Image courtesy of Newsday.com
Historically, algal blooms occurring in New York, such as brown tide in Long Island waters, were known to cause negative impacts on coastal ecosystems and fisheries. But prior to 2006 there had never been a recorded instance of algal blooms that produced toxins harmful to human health. That changed with the appearance of blooms of the “red tide” organism Alexandrium fundyense
and high levels of its related potent toxin that can accumulate in shellfish. When toxic shellfish are consumed they can cause a severe and sometimes deadly human illness called paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). In five of the last six years, blooms of Alexandrium
and high levels of PSP toxin in shellfish forced the closure of nearly 7,500 acres of prime shellfish beds on Huntington Bay and Northport Bay on Long Island’s north shore. In 2011, PSP-related closures were necessary in 3,900 acres of Shinnecock Bay along the south shore of Long Island creating an unanticipated threat to oyster aquaculture operations of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.
In the last three years, New York’s HAB problem expanded with the appearance of large, annual blooms of another toxic algae species, Dinophysis acuminata
, along the north shore. Toxins produced by this species can also accumulate in shellfish and when eaten cause the human illness known as diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) syndrome.
Said Chris Amato, NYSDEC’s Assistant Commissioner of Natural Resources, “Partnering with Stony Brook University and NOAA will enable us to evaluate the latest technologies in monitoring HAB cells, their toxins and associated environmental conditions in all of New York’s marine waters including those of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. Guided by this information, we’ll be able to monitor more targeted closures of areas impacted by toxic algae. We will know more quickly when the HAB threat has passed so we can safely re-open the shellfish beds.”
Said Dr. Gobler, “This project will have a series of benefits to the citizens of New York. First and foremost, when PSP or DSP events occur our efforts will improve our abilities to protect human health. In addition, our rapid monitoring and accurate analyses will allow nearby regions that do not have high levels of harmful algal toxins to remain open to shellfishing.”
MERHAB research program manager Marc Suddleson said “NOAA’s investment in this academic/state collaboration will fund critical innovations in New York monitoring programs that provide our best known defense against exposure to harmful algal toxins.” Suddleson added, “The findings will help NOAA and New York advance mutual interests in HAB monitoring and prediction for the New England and Middle Atlantic regions.”
Said Dr. Jim Ammerman, Director of New York Sea Grant, “This project builds on prior support for Dr. Gobler’s studies of Alexandrium
on the north shore of Long Island by the Long Island Sound Study (LISS), a US EPA program which provides research funding to New York and Connecticut Sea Grant for such research. New York Sea Grant has also awarded prior grants to other NY investigators for developing methods to measure the PSP toxin. New York Sea Grant has a long history of support for harmful algal bloom studies throughout the state via its own research program as well as special NOAA initiatives.”
Dr. Gobler and his team will deploy blue mussels and wild clams in key locations to monitor likely levels of PSP and DSP toxin accumulation in nearby shellfish beds. They will also evaluate different ways to measure shellfish toxin levels to find the fastest, most economical, and most reliable means to meet management data needs. Additionally, the project will monitor deposits of Alexandrium
cysts, which act like seeds, on the Long Island sound bottom in an effort to predict when and where next year's blooms will occur.
New York Sea Grant is one of 32 university-based programs under the National Sea Grant College Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a cooperative program of the State University of New York and Cornell University. The National Sea Grant College Program utilizes this network of the nation's premier universities in conducting scientific research, education, training and extension projects designed to encourage science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources.