Booming Growth and Pollution Threaten Oregon, U.S. Coasts, Agency Says
Richard L. Hill
The Oregonian
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PHILADELPHIA--Feb. 16--Pollution and booming growth along America's coastlines, including Oregon's, pose threats that need to be studied and solved, says the head of the nation's primary ocean agency. 

"There is an urgent need to nail down the causes and extent of the  problems that plague our coastal areas so solutions can be found," D. James Baker, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Sunday. 
He said his agency is launching a project called the State of the Coast Report to identify key coastal and marine ecosystem problems. The project will explore ways to better focus research and monitoring efforts. It's being designed as a tool for resource managers and decision-makers to use in examining challenges to coastal areas. 

In addition, the 20 federal agencies with different roles in overseeing aspects of the ocean will work on a comprehensive policy to coordinate research and management efforts, he said. A national oceans conference also will be held later this year, probably in June, to discuss ways coastal areas can be protected. 

"We're seeing more and more pressures on our coasts," Baker said. "Fish populations have declined dramatically in coastal areas, the major fisheries habitat. We're seeing the chemistry of the water changing, as the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus are getting higher and higher. 

"Last year, we identified 11 new species of toxic organisms in the coastal areas of the United States because the chemistry is changing." 

Baker said more people are moving to coastal areas, with about half of Americans living within an hour's drive of ocean shores. He said 88 percent of U.S. beaches are eroding because of sea-level rises during the past century. 

NOAA and other federal agencies are beginning to work in partnership with states to find ways to solve coastal problems, Baker said. 

He cited last year's agreement with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, which calls for the state to manage the restoration of most coastal salmon to prevent the fish from falling under Endangered Species Act protection. A restoration plan to keep steelhead trout in Southern Oregon off the threatened species list also is being negotiated. 

"That's the kind of concern and effort all of us like to see," Baker said, "with the states and local governments taking over responsibility for the natural resources in their areas." 

The new federal emphasis on coastal areas coincides with the United Nation's "Year of the Ocean," he said. 

"Globally, we're seeing man's imprint on the ocean, and it's growing and growing," he said. "I think it's important to focus more research attention on areas that have a practical impact on people." 

Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, agreed. "We're seeing an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of these harmful algal blooms throughout the world," she said in an interview. "Some of these organisms cause health problems in humans and also can result in killing fish." 

She said the algal blooms aren't showing up only in coastal waters, but also in the middle of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. 

The primary sources for the pollutants that cause these toxic blooms include nitrogen fertilizer from agricultural runoff, livestock and human wastes, and fossil fuels, which are burned and transported through the atmosphere into the oceans, she said. 

Toxic organisms and harmful species also are being transported between countries in the ballast water of ships, Lubchenco said. An introduced species of phytoplankton from Asia might have been responsible for a shellfish poisoning outbreak in 1992 along the Northwest coast. 

European green crabs, thought to have arrived in ballast water, also showed up on the Oregon coast in 1997 and have moved northward from Coos Bay. The voracious feeder can outcompete native species, killing and eating Dungeness crabs, young clams and mussels, and oysters. 

(c) 1998, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. 
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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