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Harmful Algal Bloom bill introduced in U.S. Senate

By Staff | May 6, 2009

Last week, Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), along with seven other Senators including Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) introduced the Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2009.

This bill would enhance the research programs established in the original 1998 bill and will develop and promote a comprehensive plan for a national strategy to address HABs and hypoxia through baseline research, forecasting and monitoring. It will also address mitigation and control by helping communities detect, control and mitigate coastal algal bloom and hypoxia events.

In her remarks to introduce the bill, Snowe said that this program has “greatly enhanced our ability to predict outbreaks of harmful algal blooms and the extent of hypoxic zones. But knowing when outbreaks will occur is only half the battle.”

This bill will take the program to its next logical step. It will provide funding for additional research into mitigation and prevention of HABs and hypoxia, and will enable communities like Sanibel, Lee County and others in Southwest Florida and around the nation to develop response strategies to more effectively reduce their effects on our coastal communities.

“While we have made great strides in bloom prediction and monitoring, it is clear that these problems have not gone away, but rather increased in magnitude,” said Snowe. “Harmful algal blooms remain prevalent nationwide, and areas of hypoxia – also known as ‘dead zones’ – are now occurring with increasing frequency.”

She continued, “The amendments contained in this legislation would enhance the nation’s ability to predict, monitor, and ultimately control harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. Understanding when these blooms will occur is vital, but the time has come to take this program to the next level – to determine not when an outbreak will occur, but how to reduce its intensity or prevent its occurrence altogether. This bill would build on NOAA’s successes in research and forecasting by creating a program to mitigate and control HAB outbreaks.”

Most importantly for communities like Sanibel, this bill recognizes the need to improve coordination between state and local resource managers. These are the people who are on the front lines, the people who make the decisions to close beaches, fishing areas and shellfish beds. While of course these decisions are important to protect human health and life they also have significant economic impacts.

To do this, the bill would “mandate creation of Regional Research and Action Plans that would identify baseline research, possible state and local government actions to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of HABs, and establish outreach strategies to ensure the public is informed of the dangers these events can present. A regional focus on these issues will ensure a more effective and efficient response to future events.”

We at PURRE have been talking to Congress about HAB legislation for more than two years now. This bill was developed with the cooperation and coordination with PURRE and other stakeholders around the country. Now that we have a bill in the Senate we will continue to work on its passage and hopefully its implementation. While there is no companion bill in the House we are working with the House Science Committee to have this bill introduced in that body. As you may recall, we were successful last year in working with the Committee to get a hearing on HABs to discuss the extent of the problem.

We will be meeting later this month with both House and Senate staff to continue our efforts to improve this program.