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Ocean Champions: Political Champions for Ocean Conservation

President Obama Signs Legislation to Combat Toxic Algal Blooms 

Statement by David Wilmot, Ph.D., President of Ocean Champions

President Obama signed legislation today to combat the serious problem of toxic algal blooms affecting our oceans, beaches, rivers and lakes.

This effort has long been a top priority of Ocean Champions, who has worked closely with many Congressional allies, including Senator Bill Nelson (FL), Senator Rob Portman (OH), Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR) and others to pass this legislation.

This bill provides a major boost to the battle against the harmful algae blooms that are wreaking havoc on oceans, lakes and streams. Fish, manatees, dolphins, sea lions, birds and pets are dying. People swimming in contaminated water are getting sick. Warning signs have been posted at a growing number of beaches. Health officials are telling people to avoid certain types of seafood coming from affected water. Fishermen are sidelined and tourists are driven away. 

The frequency and intensity of algal blooms is increasing across the United States. A major bloom has been occurring in eastern Lake Erie. A dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is predicted to be as large as the state of Connecticut this summer. The major dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay is continuing to expand. This spring levels of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin that can be lethal and is a byproduct of algal blooms, has been found at record levels in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Many wonder if Florida will be hard hit again this year. Toxic algae has killed hundreds of Florida manatees and affected many areas. Stuart was said to have a “lost summer” in 2013. 

All told, it has been estimated that harmful algae blooms are costing our country nearly $100 million a year.

We’re very grateful that Congress has passed this bill. It’s the only stand-alone ocean conservation legislation passed by this Congress and signed by President Obama.

This bipartisan bill will improve our ability to predict and respond to harmful algal blooms. It will help scientists and others find ways to reduce the duration and intensity of the outbreaks. And it provides for more monitoring and research into what causes the blooms of algae so we can help reduce their occurrence.  The bill will benefit swimmers, surfers, fishermen, wildlife, pets and everyone who cares about the health of oceans, lakes and streams. 

Blooms can come from algae that range from microscopic single-celled organisms to macroscopic seaweed, and cause harm through the production of toxins or by accumulation of the plants. These outbreaks are commonly called "red" or "brown" tides (because the water turns reddish or brown), but the term Harmful Algal Blooms is more accurate. Some harmful algal blooms produce toxins that can kill fish, shellfish, birds, and marine mammals. By eating fish or shellfish contaminated by toxic algae or by inhaling airborne toxins, people can become sick, and in rare instances, die. Even when a toxin is not produced harmful algal blooms can be deadly when overgrowth alters marine habitats by blocking light, clogging fish gills or smothering corals or other life. In addition, when large blooms die and decompose, the oxygen is stripped from the water resulting in uninhabitable “dead zones” (hypoxia). Nitrogen pollution and excess nutrients are known to cause many harmful algal blooms and "dead zones."

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