Scientists conduct first remote underwater detection of harmful algae and its toxins

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Washington, July 15 (ANI): A team of scientists has successfully conducted the first remote detection of a harmful algal species and its toxin below the ocean's surface.

The detection was made by scientists at NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

This achievement represents a significant milestone in NOAA's effort to monitor the type and toxicity of harmful algal blooms (HABs).

HABs are considered to be increasing not only in their global distribution, but also in the frequency, duration, and severity of their effects.

HABs damage coastal ecosystem health and pose threats to humans as well as marine life.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate this trend, since many critical processes that govern HABs dynamics, such as water temperature and ocean circulation, are influenced by climate.

A MBARI-designed robotic instrument called the Environmental Sample Processor, or 'ESP,' designed as a fully-functional analytical laboratory in the sea, lets researchers collect the algal cells and extract the genetic information required for organism identification as well as the toxin needed to assess the risk to humans and wildlife.

The ESP then conducts specialized, molecular-based measurements of species and toxin abundance, and transmits results to the laboratory via radio signals.

"This represents the first autonomous detection of both a HAB species and its toxin by an underwater sensor," said Greg Doucette, a research oceanographer at NOAA's Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina.

"It allows us to determine not only the organism causing a bloom, but also the toxicity of the event, which ultimately dictates whether it is a threat to the public and the ecosystem," he added.

"Our public health monitoring program is one of the many groups that can benefit directly from the ESP technology and ability to provide an early warning of impending bloom activity and toxicity," said Gregg Langlois, director of the state of California's Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program.

"This is critical information for coastal managers and public health officials in mitigating impacts on the coastal ecosystem, since the toxicity of these algae can vary widely from little or no toxicity to highly toxic," he added.

Beyond improving forecasting of HABs, this research will contribute to the rapidly emerging US Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) by adding a new way to make coastal ocean observations. (ANI)

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