Researchers from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have carried out the first remote detection of a harmful algal species and its toxin.
Harmful algae blooms (HABs) and marine biotoxins impact the whole marine food web and the human endeavors associated with living marine resources. HAB events can occur in relatively small areas, many of them have origins in far off-shore oceanic environments. It is believed that climate change is expected to exacerbate HAB events, due to changes in water temperature and ocean circulation, which are influenced by climate. Because of the scale of these HAB events, NOAA developed a HAP Operational Forecast System, used to develop predictions of the transport and potential development of harmful algae conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. This remote detection system is a major milestone in NOAA’s effort to monitor the type and toxicity of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and forecast their development. The remote detection system is called the Environmental Sample Processor, or ‘ESP.’ The processor is designed as a fully-functional underwater laboratory, allowing researchers to collect and analyze the algal cells identifying specific toxins and genetic information in order to assess the risk to humans and wildlife.