NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative Underway With Hollings Marine Lab, Partners

With an initial award of $2.05 million from NOAA, the Hollings Marine Laboratory, Charleston, S.C., has begun research into the quality and safety of U.S. coastal waters and the seafood they contain.
NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative Underway With Hollings Marine Lab, Partners
December 1, 2004

With an initial award of $2.05 million from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Hollings Marine Laboratory, located at the South Carolina Marine Resources Center in Charleston, S.C., has begun research into fundamental questions about the quality and safety of U.S. coastal waters and the seafood they contain.   The research is part of NOAA's new "Oceans and Human Health Initiative," a program anticipated to be at least five years in duration. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Along with the grant, NOAA has designated the Hollings Marine Laboratory as a "Center of Excellence for Oceans and Human Health" research.  The Hollings Laboratory is one of only three NOAA facilities nationwide to receive such a designation.  The other two Centers of Excellence in the Ocean and Human Health Initiative are NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Wash., and NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.   The NOAA labs will also interact with related programs in the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"These centers will start an entirely new approach to ocean research.  The oceans have a major impact on our daily health and we need to learn a great deal more about what ocean pollution is doing to both marine creatures and our food supply," said U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina.   "I'm also convinced we haven't even begun to know the good that can come from oceans. One day our oceans will be a major source of new drugs, and these new centers will speed that development."

"The oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes are inextricably linked to the health of humans who inhabit both coastal and inland areas," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.   "These centers are the cornerstone of NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative and one of the ways we will work with our partners to increase understanding of the interactions between human health and ocean processes."

Established by Congress in 2003, the Oceans and Human Health Initiative includes internal and external peer-reviewed research as well as distinguished scholars and trainee program.  The research conducted at the HML and the other NOAA Centers will address four key questions: "What are the cumulative impacts of coastal development on our marine life?   Are the fish and shellfish safe to eat?  Is it safe to swim in the oceans?  What can be done to reduce these problems?"

Although a NOAA facility, Hollings Marine Laboratory is operated as a partnership among NOAA, the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology, and three South Carolina institutions: the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the College of Charleston, and the Medical University of South Carolina.   All of the partners have critical roles in the Center of Excellence for Oceans and Human Health.  The laboratory is named for U.S. Senator Ernest F. Hollings who has been a long-term supporter of NOAA's critical role in the management of coastal resources.

"This unique partnership allows NOAA to focus an unparalleled combination of basic, applied and biomedical research expertise, ranging from coastal ecology and physiology to cutting edge molecular biology, chemistry and toxicology, on questions of paramount importance to maintaining the health of our coastal environments and the humans that live in the coastal zone," says Fred Holland, Ph.D., director of Hollings Marine Laboratory.

With the Oceans and Human Health Initiative, NOAA will conduct research and implement programs that link environmental conditions in the coastal zone to human health and socio-economic wellbeing.

For NOAA's Oceans and Human Health initiative, the Hollings Marine Laboratory will be developing new methods, approaches, and tools to: (1) evaluate the health responses of marine organisms to stress, and (2) identify and characterize chemical and microbial threats to marine ecosystems and human health.

To accomplish these research objectives the Hollings Marine Laboratory will establish three core research areas:  Applied Marine Genomics, Chemical Contaminants, and Source Tracking of Marine Pathogens.

The Applied Marine Genomics research group, headed by Bob Chapman of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Greg Warr of the Medical University of South Carolina, will develop genetic techniques for evaluating the molecular-level responses of oysters and shrimp to multiple environmental stressors.   The Marine Genomics team, guided by Karen Burnett and Lou Burnett of the College of Charleston, will also work to determine if multiple stressors, such as low levels of dissolved oxygen and chemicals, affect the degree to which oysters are vectors for human pathogens.

The Chemical Contaminants research unit, headed by NOAA's Mike Fulton, will develop methods for measuring emerging chemical contaminants of concern in the marine environment and determining their effects on key marine species. Initial compounds to be evaluated include flame-retardants, human and animal pharmaceuticals, and new pesticides.

The Source Tracking of Marine Pathogens research team includes NOAA researchers from labs in Oxford, Md., Beaufort, S.C. and Miami, Fla., and will identify and determine the sources of pathogenic microorganisms that threaten public health, including viruses.   They will also develop new methods for rapidly identifying human pathogens in the marine environment.

Shallow tidal creeks and estuaries are the first zone of impact for many chemical and microbial contaminants released into coastal waters.  The Hollings Marine Laboratory will conduct a field program in shallow tidal creeks and estuaries to determine the reliability of the new methods and tools for application by national and regional monitoring and assessment programs. This effort will be led by Denis Sanger of South Carolina Office of Coastal Resource Management and Bob Van Dolah from South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

The new Center of Excellence will also include research by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' researchers Craig Browdy and Ted Smith to evaluate the health benefits and risks of seafood, including a comparison of the nutritional value and the possible differences in the human health risks of stocked vs. wild fish and farmed vs. wild shrimp.

The diverse and complex nature of the data generated by the research programs at the Center of Excellence at the Hollings Marine Laboratory will require the development of new data management and synthesis approaches. These tools will convert the complex data into information and knowledge that can be used for making ecosystem-based management decisions that include the human dimension.

Hollings Marine Laboratory will complement its research activities with educational and outreach activities to train the next generation of scientists and teachers.  Graduate and post-doctoral students will be involved in every aspect of the Center's research.   In addition, education specialists will train teachers in grades K-12, as well as undergraduate students, about ocean and human health issues.  The educational and outreach efforts, coordinated by HML's Paula Keener-Chavis, will work closely with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and the NOAA Coastal Services Center in North Charleston.

More information:
  NOAA's National Ocean Service
  National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
  Hollings Marine Laboratory
  NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative