WASHINGTON (CN) – The House voted 251-103 Friday to combat a rise in algal blooms, which form “dead zones” that suffocate and poison birds, dolphins and other aquatic life, draining $82 million a year from the tourism and seafood industries.
“We need to protect our coast, oceans and citizens from the threats that these blooms cause on our beaches, in the food web, and in economic losses to communities and commercial fisheries,” Tennessee Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon said.
The bill, which allocates $175 million over the next five years in mostly research funds, garnered 98 percent approval from Democrats, compared to 28 percent approval from Republicans.
The blooms, such as “red tide,” appear to be on the rise, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that algal blooms cut $82 million out of tourism and seafood profits each year, as they close shorelines to tourists and fishing.
The bill directs the agency to research a national plan to cut back on the costly blooms.
Spurred by high levels of nutrients, the rapid growth of algae clouds water and cuts off sunlight and, depending on the type of algae, can leach the water with neurotoxins that kill a variety of sea and bird life, including dolphins and manatees.
Decomposition of the algae demands enormous amounts of oxygen and can deplete the water’s reservoir, driving bottom-dwelling creatures like crabs and octopuses to the water’s surface, where oxygen is most concentrated.
One such dead zone grips an 18,000 square-kilometer swath of ocean at the mouth of the Mississippi River, keeping oxygen levels below the level necessary for most marine life.
Though blooms typically don’t harm people directly, eating toxic seafood has proven fatal for a few, and winds blowing the algae’s toxic aerosol onshore can cause coughing, sneezing and tearing, the oceanic agency said.