EU project to monitor Harmful Algal Blooms from space

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The Interreg France Channel England Programme (FCE) announced at the beginning of April 2017 that it will fund 2.6 million euros towards an environmental project led by PML that will use the latest satellite technology to improve the way water quality and harmful algal blooms (HABs) are monitored in the English Channel, and will assess the socio-economic implications of HABs.

Harmful Algal Blooms are caused by excessive growth of marine algae which release harmful toxins into the water that can kill fish, shellfish and even humans when they consume contaminated fish. As a result they can have an extremely damaging effect on the tourism and fishing industries. In the EU the annual cost of HABs to these industries is estimated to be in excess of 918 million euros.

The project known as S-3 EUROHAB will use data from the recently launched European satellite, Copernicus Sentinel 3, to track the growth and spread of harmful algal blooms in the Channel. This data will then be used to create a web based alert system, the first of its kind in Europe, to alert marine managers and fishing industries of the growth of potentially damaging algal blooms. Data will also be gathered to help better understand why, how and when HABs occur and well as the economic costs associated with HABs and how the web based alert system may reduce these costs. 

Current methods of tracking HABs are inefficient and expensive, costing 2 million euros annually to monitor just 6% of the Channel area. EUROHAB’s methods will not only cost significantly less, just 42,000 euros annually, but will also cover the whole Channel area. The alert system will also result in much faster response times that will help stop the spread of HABs, reducing the millions of pounds lost each year as a result of HABs in both France and the UK.

Dr Gavin Tilstone Principal Investigator of the project from PML commented: "Current monitoring methods for harmful algal blooms could be improved using satellite ocean colour data, especially with the latest technological advancement in and recent launch of the European Copernicus Satellites. The project will use these satellite data to create a web based HAB and water quality alert system that will be designed with marine managers and industry end users to enhance the marine monitoring of HAB’s in the French-English Channel region". 

The project budget will total 3.7 million euros with 69% funded by the Interreg France (Channel) England programme, representing a European Regional Development Fund budget of 2.6 million euros. The project is made up of 9 organisations, 5 from France and 4 from the UK, and is expected to last 4 years.

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