Marine harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the United States: History, current status and future trends.


Anderson DM(1), Fensin E(2), Gobler CJ(3), Hoeglund AE(4), Hubbard KA(4), Kulis DM(5), Landsberg JH(4), Lefebvre KA(6), Provoost P(7), Richlen ML(5), Smith JL(8), Solow AR(5), Trainer VL(6).
Author information:
(1)Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, 02543, United States. Electronic address: [Email]
(2)NC Division of Water Resources, 4401 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh, NC, 27607, United States.
(3)School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Southampton, NY, 11968, United States.
(4)Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Petersburg, Florida, 33701, United States.
(5)Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, 02543, United States.
(6)Environmental and Fisheries Sciences Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Seattle, WA, 98112, United States.
(7)Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
(IOC) of UNESCO, IOC Project Office for IODE, 8400 Oostende, Belgium.
(8)Department of Aquatic Health Sciences, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, William & Mary, Gloucester Point, VA 23062, United States.


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are diverse phenomena involving multiple. species and classes of algae that occupy a broad range of habitats from lakes to oceans and produce a multiplicity of toxins or bioactive compounds that impact many different resources. Here, a review of the status of this complex array of marine HAB problems in the U.S. is presented, providing historical information and trends as well as future perspectives. The study relies on thirty years (1990-2019) of data in HAEDAT - the IOC-ICES-PICES Harmful Algal Event database, but also includes many other reports. At a qualitative level, the U.S. national HAB problem is far more extensive than was the case decades ago, with more toxic species and toxins to monitor, as well as a larger range of impacted resources and areas affected. Quantitatively, no significant trend is seen for paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) events over the study interval, though there is clear evidence of the expansion of the problem into new regions and the emergence of a species that produces PSTs in Florida - Pyrodinium bahamense. Amnesic shellfish toxin (AST) events have significantly increased in the U.S., with an overall pattern of frequent outbreaks on the West Coast, emerging, recurring outbreaks on the East Coast, and sporadic incidents in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the long historical record of neurotoxic shellfish toxin (NST) events, no significant trend is observed over the past 30 years. The recent emergence of diarrhetic shellfish toxins (DSTs) in the U.S. began along the Gulf Coast in 2008 and expanded to the West and East Coasts, though no significant trend through time is seen since then. Ciguatoxin (CTX) events caused by Gambierdiscus dinoflagellates have long impacted tropical and subtropical locations in the U.S., but due to a lack of monitoring programs as well as under-reporting of illnesses, data on these events are not available for time series analysis. Geographic expansion of Gambierdiscus into temperate and non-endemic areas (e.g., northern Gulf of Mexico) is apparent, and fostered by ocean warming. HAB-related marine wildlife morbidity and mortality events appear to be increasing, with statistically significant increasing trends observed in marine mammal poisonings caused by ASTs along the coast of California and NSTs in Florida. Since their first occurrence in 1985 in New York, brown tides resulting from high-density blooms of Aureococcus have spread south to Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, while those caused by Aureoumbra have spread from the Gulf Coast to the east coast of Florida. Blooms of Margalefidinium polykrikoides occurred in four locations in the U.S. from 1921-2001 but have appeared in more than 15  U.S. estuaries since then, with ocean warming implicated as a causative factor. Numerous blooms of toxic cyanobacteria have been documented in all 50  U.S. states and the transport of cyanotoxins from freshwater systems into marine coastal waters is a recently identified and potentially significant threat to public and ecosystem health. Taken together, there is a significant increasing trend in all HAB events in HAEDAT over the 30-year study interval. Part of this observed HAB expansion simply reflects a better realization of the true or historic scale of the problem, long obscured by inadequate monitoring. Other contributing factors include the dispersion of species to new areas, the discovery of new HAB poisoning syndromes or impacts, and the stimulatory effects of human activities like nutrient pollution, aquaculture expansion, and ocean warming, among others. One result of this multifaceted expansion is that many regions of the U.S. now face a daunting diversity of species and toxins, representing a significant and growing challenge to resource managers and public health officials in terms of toxins, regions, and time intervals to monitor, and necessitating new approaches to monitoring and management. Mobilization of funding and resources for research, monitoring and management of HABs requires accurate information on the scale and nature of the national problem. HAEDAT and other databases can be of great value in this regard but efforts are needed to expand and sustain the collection of data regionally and nationally.