Innovative incubator to jumpstart efforts to control harmful algal blooms

October 24, 2022

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has been awarded a $7.5 million grant from NOAA to lead an innovative US Harmful Algal Bloom Control Technology Incubator (US HAB-CTI) to advance innovative ways to control harmful algal blooms that are impacting the health of people and marine ecosystems, as well as regional economies. UMCES’ Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore, Maryland, will partner with the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida, to offer the first-of-its-kind center to solicit, fund, and assist the development of innovative harmful algal bloom control technology projects with commercial potential.

Professor Al Place will lead an innovative US Harmful Algal Bloom Technology Control Incubator (US HAB-CTI) at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology to advance innovative ways to control harmful algal blooms.

Overall harmful algal blooms frequency has been increasing a tremendous amount over past five years due to climate change, increasing temperatures, and legacy nutrients,” said UMCES Professor Al Place.

Harmful algal blooms, such as red tide, cause a wide variety of environmental, economic, and human health problems. They occur when algae—simple photosynthetic organisms that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. The growing frequency and magnitude of harmful algal blooms has created a pressing need for ways to control these blooms in coastal waters. As scientists, governments, and agencies have worked to assess approaches, there has been increasing need to incorporate environmental compliance, risk assessments, and other permitting in the decision-making process to use a control agent or approach.

US HAB-CTI is a unique partnership between UMCES’ Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology and Mote's Red Tide Mitigation & Technology Development Initiative to solicit, fund, and assist innovative control technology projects and provide guidance on navigating the relevant licensing and permitting processes through an online clearinghouse of proven control methods. IMET and Mote will make available to grantees their research infrastructure to test mitigation compounds, technologies, and deployment mechanisms for marine, estuarine, and freshwater HAB species that negatively impact the U.S. economy, environment, and quality of life.

“Field demonstration of harmful algal bloom control techniques is needed to fill the gap between laboratory research and larger scale implementation,” said Peter Goodwin, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “This is an ideal partnership to address a concerning global issue.”

IMET has the capability to perform lab-based experiments with freshwater toxic HABs in freshwater, and Mote has extensive experience with Florida red tide in the Gulf of Mexico, including their lab-based testing of mitigation strategies at their inland Mote Aquaculture Research Park and their facilitation of pilot field tests during past active red tide blooms.

Annual solicitations will be announced on the US HAB-CTI and NOAA websites and through national harmful bloom networks beginning in Spring 2023. A rigorous evaluation and advisement process will assess innovative proof-of-concept project feasibility to prepare for future National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science: Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Bloom (PCMHAB) competitive funding announcements. In addition to the core proposal process steps, guidance will be provided to researchers and potential end users about the licensing, permitting, and other environmental compliance, organized into more user-friendly online clearinghouse covering both federal and state requirements.

Principal Investigators

Dr. Allen Place, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology
In the wake of the 1997 fish kills and public concern surrounding Pfiesteria, Al Place set out to study the algae species blamed for killing fish and sickening humans in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. Researchers found that the dinoflagellates Karlodinium veneficum (one-celled algae that propel through water with whip-like tails) were more toxic than Pfiesteria, leading Place to suspect that Karlodinium was the real culprit. He has spent the last 25 years researching the microscopic algal cell at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore. Every year since then, blooms of Karlodinium have been implicated in fish kills along the Atlantic Coast, as well as worldwide.

Located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology is a strategic alliance involving scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research in microbiology, molecular biology and biotechnology, using marine organisms to develop new drug therapies, alternative energy and innovations to improve public health. IMET contributes to sustainable marine aquaculture and fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and marine ecosystems. and fosters early stage companies and industry partnerships, contributing to economic development in Maryland.

Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
In 2019, in response to one of the most devastating Florida red tide blooms in history, the Florida Red Tide Mitigation & Technology Development Initiative, led by Mote Marine Laboratory in cooperation with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, was established. Florida red tides are harmful algal blooms caused by higher-than-normal concentrations of Karenia brevis (microscopic algae native to the Gulf of Mexico). Florida red tides produce toxins that can cause widespread mortality of marine fishes and other wildlife, and those toxins can enter the air and cause onshore human respiratory irritation, significantly impacting quality of life and the economies of coastal communities that rely upon ecotourism and fishing. As part of the Initiative, Mote manages a 29,000-square foot, 150,000-gallon recirculating treatment system at the Mote Aquaculture Research Park that is safely testing mitigation technologies for harmful algal blooms, away from the coastal environment. Mote’s red tide research spans several decades, and in addition to the development of mitigation technologies, includes vital monitoring of red tide conditions and relaying that information to the public, research that has unlocked more understanding of red tide’s biology, bloom dynamics, and toxin impacts, and responding to wildlife harmed by Florida red tide through sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation and stock enhancement efforts of vital sportfish.