The NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory’s Environmental Microbiology Program collaborates with the Coral Health and Monitoring Program by investigating and assessing the discharge of land-based microbial contaminants to the coastal environment and coral reefs that can negatively impact both human health and coral reef health. These discharges can take a variety of forms including publicly operated treated wastewater oceanic outfalls, septic discharges from coastal residential canals, urban stormwater runoff, suburban and agricultural runoff, and discharges from the intercoastal waterway and inland canals to the coastal zone. As part of both the NOAA Florida Area Coastal Environment (FACE) Program, and the NSF/NIEHS Oceans and Human Health Center (OHH) at the University of Miami, the AOML Environmental Microbiology Program tests nearshore and coastal waters, the water and sand of recreational beaches, and marine sentinel species such as sponges and corals for a variety of microbial indicators of human-sourced contamination, as well as for specific pathogenic organisms that can cause diseases in humans, marine animals, and corals.
The methods utilized include both traditional culture-based growth methods and state-of-the-art molecular genetic assays for various indicators and pathogens. In addition, the Environmental Microbiology Program works to develop and validate new methods for water quality assessment and detection of pathogenic organisms. For example, in cooperation with collaborators from the University of Georgia in Athens (Dr. Erin Lipp and Jessica Joyner), we are helping develop assays for the detection and characterization of strains of Serratia marcescens that cause White Pox disease in corals, as well as infections in humans. We are also both developing and validating a range molecular microbial source tracking methods that can link microbial contaminants and fecal indicators found in corals and other marine habitats back to host-species of origin to provide managers better tools in source-tracking and remediating such contaminants to the coastal environment.