What does Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Mean for the US?

By Ian Teñido

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For some time now, a variety of environmental hazards have been precisely pointed out and means of mitigating the negative outcomes from these issues/hazards were formulated. Among the top environmental issues around the globe, Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) is not featured prominently, however, here in the US the HABs have increasingly become a subject of discussion and for some time now, dominating major news items on environmental issues. Knowing and understanding what causes HABs is very important because it is only through knowing and understanding that it can be curbed and prevented (New Scientist, 2015).

HABs occur when colonies of algae form. The colonies of algae comprise simple plants that thrive well in both fresh water bodies and at the seas. Normal algae are not harmful at all, in fact, they are part of the environmental richness, playing a significant function in balancing the aquatic ecology. However, when they grow out of control while producing toxics that affect people, fish, birds and many other life forms is when they are considered harmful (New Scientist, 2015).

HABs cause human illnesses known to be debilitating and fatal depending on the susceptibility of the individuals. In the US, HABs have been reported in every coastal state and NOAA estimates that their occurrence may be on the rise; this is an alarm for some action. At the moment, HABs have become a national concern because their impact on the health of the people, and further worse on marine ecosystems in which they thrive are increasingly and essentially becoming evident. While the focus of addressing the HABs can be focused on the US alone, their health and economic impact traverses our boundaries to regional and global economies. An estimate places a figure of $82 million in economic losses in the restaurants, tourism and seafood industries.

Algae Bloom are growing in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie (right). -Google Image

The HABs flourish when water, wind currents, the temperatures and water chemical composition are ideal. In most cases, HABs are linked to excessive feeding from nutrients. Nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous that percolate are released, leaches or drained from the lawns, farm gardens, downriver flows and from many other sources build up at higher rates and overfeeds the algae that is existing normally in the environment. Some HABs occur in the aftermath of a natural disaster like hurricane, drought or even floods. What makes HABs is that when they are consumed through seafood, people get sick, while the airborne HABs may provoke breathing problems. On the extremes, the airborne HABs trigger asthma attacks in highly vulnerable individuals.

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NOAA and its scientists continue to monitor the HABs to determine the specific locations of the blooms and also to be able to forecast, so that the coastal communities can be warned in advance in order to enable the communities to plan ahead and adequately deal with the adverse environmental and health impacts that comes with it. Despite of these efforts however, an enormous, very harmful algae bloom blossomed and blanketed Florida’s coast waterways. The direct impact of this bloom is the plague that it has inflicted on the residents, tourists and officials of the coast alike.

Just early in July 2016, Governor Scott had to declare a state of emergency in four counties of Florida when the bloom reached its shores. Although president Obama declined to ratify the state of emergency, images taken from space show a rather stunning condition of the blooms along the waters in Florida. The NASA images show blue-green algae has covered Lake Okeechobee and has extended to nearly 35 miles square. This is only but a case in point, when all coasts and their algal blooms are combined, the impact on the US environment and health is devastating.



New Scientist (2015). Algal Bloom. Last Word Answer. New Scientist, 225 (3008), 57. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/s0262-4079(15)60318-9

JAMA (2014). Increasing Risks From Algal Blooms Detected at Freshwater Lakes. 311(8): 792. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.804.

Google Images. http://abcnews.go.com/images/GMA/160704_gma_pilgrim2.jpg



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