Scripps Institute of Oceanography Awarded $5M to Study Toxic Algae Blooms

The blooms have the potential to kill marine mammals, but researchers don’t know why

Researchers in San Diego will get the opportunity to understand why algal blooms in the ocean can be deadly to some marine species.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography with $4.9 million to look for these harmful blooms along the California coast. Researchers will be “using a suite of technologies that can target and sample ocean microbes and sift through genetic code in real time,” according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Researchers at Scripps Oceanography discovered the “genetic basis” of an acid produced in toxic algal blooms. This acid accumulates in the tissues of shellfish and fish and when consumed by larger mammals, the acid can lead to death, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Now, researchers at the San Diego-based Institute will try to uncover why these algae blooms create toxins.

Deploying a Wirewalker from the stern of Scripps Oceanography research vessel
Sean Whelan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Scripps physical oceanographer Drew Lucas (left) and marine tech Josh Manger deploying a Wirewalker from the stern of Scripps Oceanography research vessel Roger Revelle in the South China Sea

The project will look at California coastal areas from Monterey Bay to Del Mar, in San Diego. Researchers will take a series of month-long expeditions to look for the blooms next fall and in the spring -- when the Institute says the toxic algal blooms appear.

Biological oceanographer, Clarissa Anderson, said it can be a challenge to track algal blooms but by using underwater robots it can help to “detect and follow subsurface blooms and better understand the conditions of the deeper ocean when they occur.” The underwater vehicle is being supplied by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute along with a sensor developed by NOAA.

The algae blooms have created a problem across the country. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography said that a toxic algae bloom in 2015 closed some fishing industries, creating “massive marine die-offs from Central California to the Alaskan peninsula.” 

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