New research award will help resource managers plan for increase in toxic algal blooms in Chesapeake waterways

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Researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory have been awarded funding to develop a new model to better predict the long-term occurrences of dangerous and costly harmful algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay. The cooperative project is made possible by the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) program of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS).

“The harmful algal blooms in Chesapeake Bay have been increasing due to nutrient enrichment, and with climate change we are going to have more occurrences,” said co-investigator Professor Ming Li. “In this project we will be developing a new mechanistic model to predict the harmful algal blooms.”

The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have long suffered from harmful algae blooms, or HABs, caused by excess nutrients running off of the land, due largely to a continually growing population in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and the development of animal and plant agriculture in its watershed. Ecosystem-disrupting events, harmful algal blooms have shown marked increase in the past 20 years.

The three-year project will develop a framework for scientists and natural resources managers to understand the impact of blooms by two of the most common microscopic algae in the Chesapeake Bay. Prorocentrum minimum, better known as ‘mahogany tide,’ can severely reduce the amount of oxygen available to living things, killing fish and altering food webs. Kalrodinium veneficum produces a toxin that has been implicated in fish-kill events in the Chesapeake Bay, as well been as associated with failure of oyster spawning and development.

“This is not a forecasting model for three or four days out,” said Professor Patricia Glibert. “Our aim is to ask longer term questions, such as if temperatures warm by a certain amount, what effect will that have? If we were to reduce nutrients, how will that affect harmful algal blooms?”

The model would be a tool to play out a number of different scenarios to understand the impact of different potential management decisions and ecosystem responses over decades. Glibert, who has been working on understanding toxic algal blooms around the world, will be handling the physiological experiments. Li, an expert on modeling hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay, will focus on developing a numerical model for the HABs.

The Chesapeake Bay is not the only place facing such problems. Similar events are happening off the coast of China and in many parts of Europe.

“We’re seeing this all over the world. More blooms, more often, lasting longer. In many places these trends are consistent with increased nitrogen loads,” Glibert.

Climate change is expected to result in warmer temperatures, higher sea level, and a changing weather patterns that will further increase the amount of nutrient pollution running off the land into waterways.

“We will be working closely with managers to develop scenarios and questions they wish to have us ask,” said Li, referring to groups like the Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Department of the Environment, and others. “We will add a model of the harmful algal blooms to an existing water-quality model and come up with a product that will be useful for managers.”

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE 

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment, and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. www.umces.edu

UMCES Invites Everyone to Report Dolphin Sightings in Chesapeake Bay

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The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science invites everyone who spends time on or near the Chesapeake Bay to report dolphin sightings with a new online tracking system. Chesapeake DolphinWatch allows users to mark the location of their dolphin sightings on a map of the Chesapeake and its tributaries so scientists can better understand where the dolphins are and where they go. The online tracker is accessible at www.chesapeakedolphinwatch.org .

“We’d like to increase people’s awareness of the dolphins and collect data at the same time,” said Helen Bailey, a scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. She specializes in studying the movements of marine mammals.“Whether you’re at home, whether you have a community pier, you live near the water, or you go out on the water, we need your eyes on the sea telling us where are the dolphins.”

Bottlenose dolphins are frequently spotted in the Chesapeake Bay during the summer with reports of them leaping in the air or bow riding boats. However, very little is known about how often dolphins actually come into the Bay, how long they spend there, what areas of the Bay they are using and why.

“Right now we have such scarce information. This is really the first time we are systematically recording this,” said Bailey. “We are hearing anecdotally that dolphins are becoming more frequent visitors to the Chesapeake Bay, but we really don’t have much information at all about where they are going and when. The more eyes we have on the water the better to report dolphin sightings. We think that citizens can make very good citizen scientists,” she said.

The online tracker has four main sections. There is a map page where users can see all of the reported sightings and tap to report their own sighting. Users can either enter the location where they saw the dolphins or have the device use the current location to mark the sighting. Users will be able to view how many users are accessing the tracker and the dolphin sightings in real time. There is also an information page with responsible wildlife viewing guidelines and to learn more about dolphins and the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are excited to be using new technology that will enable everyone to help us understand more about dolphins,” said Tom Miller, director of UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. “Citizen science, such as the DolphinWatch tracker, is becoming more and more important and helps connect everyone to our work to protect, restore, and sustain the Bay.”

Bailey notes that changes in climate, improvements in water quality, and improvements in fish stocks upon which dolphins feed could be factors in a surge in dolphin sightings. She already has a few underwater microphones in the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers where they meet the Chesapeake Bay listening for the echolocation click sounds dolphins make. The data collected through Chesapeake DolphinWatch will help inform where to put more devices to help understand where the dolphins are going and where are feeding.

“People have been really excited to tell us about their sightings, but there was no easy way to report them before,” said Bailey. “Dolphins are very iconic, and they are in our backyard.”

More information on the DolphinWatch program is available on the UMCES website at www.umces.edu/dolphinwatch. Tag your photos of dolphins to @dolphinwatch_cb on Instagram.

Funding for ChesapeakeDolphinWatch.org was provided by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE 

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment, and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. http://www.umces.edu