Human activities place significant stress on coastal ecosystems. Toxic contaminants and excessive levels of nutrients are released into coastal waters directly or via long-range atmospheric and oceanic pathways. Pollutants, such as toxic metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, industrial chemicals, and pesticides, can cause a wide range of adverse biological effects in organisms, including direct chemical toxicity, genetic damage, physiological abnormalities, compromised immune system, biochemical alterations, and behavioral aberrations. Excessive input of nutrients in coastal waters causes unwanted algal growth, oxygen depletion, and altered food chains or species composition.
One of the primary ways CCMA addresses pollution is through the National Status and Trends Program, through which scientists conduct long-term monitoring of toxic chemicals and environmental conditions at more than 350 sites along U.S. coasts. The program also documents the nature and severity of the biological effects associated with toxic chemicals in 25 coastal ecosystems.
The program, which was begun in 1984, is the only nationwide source of long-term data on toxic contaminants in U.S. coastal waters and estuaries. The program routinely reports the temporal and regional trends in levels of toxic chemicals in the coastal environment and in sentinel organisms like bivalves. The program’s data information products are available to the public via publications and the Internet. CCMA addresses pollution in other ways, including documenting coral ecosystem health, reporting harmful algal blooms, and assessing species distributions.
Other selected NCCOS projects related to this topic include: