13.04.2011 -

Understanding Harmful Algal Bloom Phenomena and Mitigating Risk

© Dr Donald Anderson. Harmful algal bloom

Tenth Session of the IOC Intergovernmental Panel on Harmful Algal Blooms, IOC, UNESCO, Paris, 12-14 April 2011

Phytoplankton blooms, micro-algal blooms, toxic algae, red tides, or harmful algae, are all terms for naturally occurring phenomena. About 300 hundred species of micro algae are reported at times to form mass occurrence, so called blooms. Nearly one fourth of these species are know to produce toxins. The scientific community refers to these events with a generic term, ‘Harmful Algal Bloom’ (HAB), recognizing that, because a wide range of organisms is involved and some species have toxic effects at low cell densities, not all HABs are ‘algal’ and not all occur as ‘blooms’.

Proliferations of microalgae in marine or brackish waters can cause massive fish kills, contaminate seafood with toxins, and alter ecosystems in ways that humans perceive as harmful. A broad classification of HABs distinguishes two groups of organisms: the toxin producers, which can contaminate seafood or kill fish, and the high-biomass producers, which can cause anoxia and indiscriminate kills of marine life after reaching dense concentrations. Some HABs have characteristics of both.

The IOC of UNESCO is assiting member states to foster the effective management of, and scientific research on, harmful algal blooms in order to understand their causes, predict their occurrences, and mitigate their effects.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Harmful Algal Blooms assess progress, decide on priorities, and identify funding or funding opportunities for implementation of the UNESCO- IOC HAB programme.

The 2011 Session of the Panel focuses on strengthened capacity in member states to manage HABs, international coordinated research on HAB, harmful algae and desalination of seawater, linkages to coastal eutrophication, HAB occurrences and global change, and fish-killing marine algae and the impact on aquaculture.

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