The Red Bloom and Brown Tide: A Visual Survey of Toxic Microalgae
Among coastal issues facing the world today, harmful algal blooms (HABs)
stand out as one of the most scientifically complex and globally relevant.
Historically in the U.S. only a few regions were affected by HABs, but now
virtually every coastal state has reported major blooms. These blooms may be
responsible for more than $1 billion in losses in the last two decades
through direct impacts on coastal resources and communities. HABs can cause
human illness and death, alter marine habitats through shading and
overgrowth, adversely impact fish and other marine organisms, and close many
coastal businesses. The list of affected resources is growing but our
understanding of the biological, physical, and chemical processes that
regulate HABs is presently inadequate to cope with the problem.
Harmful algae are microscopic, single-celled plants that live in the water. Most species of algae or phytoplankton are not harmful and serve as the energy producers at the base of the food web, without which higher life on this planet would not exist. Occasionally, the algae grow very fast or "bloom" and accumulate into dense, visible patches near the surface of the water. "Red Tide" and "Brown Tide" are common names for such phenomena where certain phytoplankton species contain reddish pigments and "bloom" such that the water appears to be colored red or brown.
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