"A Community in Crisis"

  • Understand the broader ecological, social, and economic impact of a harmful algal bloom

To receive the greatest benefit from the activity, students should be familiar with the role of algae in the food web, the general impacts of harmful algal blooms, and the ways that our societies are dealing with blooms. This can be accomplished by having the students participate in the preceding modules on this web site. Other valuable resources include Bigelow's "Toxic and Harmful Algal Blooms," NOAA's State of the Coast Report on Harmful Algal Blooms, the USDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and Woods Hole's Harmful Algae Page.

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Note to teachers: Click here to see the printable version of the introduction.

Students are presented with a scenario of a recent harmful algal bloom in the fictional town of Habport. They are assigned roles and are asked to prepare for and participate in a Habport town meeting called to discuss the bloom. Once provided with the scenario and roles, students should have several days to prepare for the meeting, as research will be required of them. Students should use the knowledge they have about harmful algal blooms to address possible causes and effects, as well as monitoring, prevention, and remediation efforts that might be taken. Some students will be given roles that they would not necessarily choose in real life. Encourage them to embrace their roles for the purpose of the exercise, and assure them that they will have the chance to voice their personal convictions after the fact. In addition to researching their individual roles, students should investigate actual recent harmful algal blooms, the impacts they have had, and the steps that were taken to deal with them. Encourage students to be creative! This should be a fun exercise that challenges their way of thinking and problem solving skills!

The town meeting can take a variety of formats depending on the time available and the decisions made by the students. At a minimum, each constituent should be allowed time to speak. That time might be spent expressing specific concerns over the algal bloom, suggesting causes, suggesting solutions, or anything else the constituents would like to discuss. The goal of the meeting is to hear all parties concerned and hopefully come up with some suggestions for mitigation, as well as detection and prevention of future blooms. The roles listed below are flexible. If your class is large enough, assign groups of students to represent the different roles. If your class is not large enough to assign all of the roles and still have an audience of “concerned citizens,” partner with another teacher and combine the classes for this multidisciplinary exercise. At the conclusion of the exercise, allow time for the students to discuss what occurred during their town meeting. This can be accomplished as a group discussion, as a reflective paper, or as a journal exercise. Questions they should consider addressing include: What did they learn from the process? What did they learn about harmful algal blooms? What did they learn of the impacts of harmful algal blooms? What did they learn about dealing with HABs?

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Note to teachers: Click here to see the printable version of the scenario.


Harmful Algal Bloom Alert in Habport!

The local media has been reporting observations related to what appears to be a harmful algal bloom in your area. In order to assess the current situation and hopefully resolve the issue, a town meeting has been called. The goal of the meeting is to come up with some suggestions for mitigation of the bloom, as well as detection and prevention of future blooms. The flyer announcing the meeting is posted to the right.

All of you will be attending the meeting. Some of you are invited speakers who will serve on the discussion panel. Others of you will attend as concerned citizens who want to understand what is happening and be involved in the decision-making process in dealing with the bloom. All of you will have the chance for your voices to be heard. You have a week to prepare for the town meeting. Good luck!

Details about your town: Habport is located on a small peninsula on the gulf coast. It is a semi-rural town with a year-round population of ~3000. During the summer and fall (the prime tourism seasons), the population of Habport has been known to approach 30,000. Local industries include tourism (hotels, restaurants, entertainment), fishing, and to a lesser degree, farming. All residents use city water (as opposed to wells). Most of the town on is on a sewer system; however, some of the more rural homesteads utilize septic systems.

As you can see from the Habport map, Habport Harbor houses most of the boat docks. The harbor was dredged last spring to allow improved boat passage. On the other side of town, the coast is dominated by sandy beaches, which provide an attractive landscape for the local hotels.

Details about the harmful algal bloom: As the local media has reported, there have been several sightings of dead fish washing up on the shores of Habport. One week ago, the local environmental quality officer was quoted as saying, “Our scientists are currently conducting assays on the dead fish.” Since then, a spokesperson from Habport Memorial was quoted as having said, “We have been receiving complaints of respiratory irritation from a few individuals. If you have respiratory problems, allergies, or asthma, we recommend avoiding the coastal areas.” Just this morning, a pelican was seen acting uncharacteristically on the beach. The animal is currently under the care of the environmental scientists and the local animal hospital. The most recent statement from the environmental quality office attributed the events to a bloom of Karenia brevis.


Note to teachers: Click here to see the printable version of the roles.

The mayor of Habport has the important role of moderator at the town meeting. The mayor, along with the town official, must plan the schedule for the meeting. Who will speak when and for how long? Will individuals be allowed time to respond to questions or concerns posed to them? When will the experts be allowed and expected to speak? When will the concerned citizens be allowed to ask questions of the meeting participants?

Things the mayor needs to know: You are an elected official and you are running for reelection this fall. If a solution is proposed that requires funding, the town currently has $3000 available for discretionary use. Funding allocations should address the prevention, detection, and remediation of HABs. Both you and the town official must approve any allocation of funding.

Town Official
The town official works with the mayor to plan the meeting schedule. Your other job is to facilitate the meeting. Although the mayor will be the moderator, your job will be to insure that the timed schedule is kept and that the meeting progresses in an orderly manner.

Things the town official needs to know: Like the mayor, you are an elected official; however, you were just elected last year and will not be up for reelection until next year. The platform on which you were elected was supported predominantly by the farming and the fishing industry. If a solution is proposed that requires funding, the town currently has $3000 available for discretionary use. Funding allocations should address the prevention, detection, and remediation of HABs. Both you and the town official must approve any allocation of funding.

Scientist (at least 1)
The scientist is considered an expert at the meeting. Your job is present the facts about the harmful algal bloom – what could have caused it, what effect it has had or will have, what are the potential problems/benefits of proposed solutions. Like a good scientist, you should be prepared to back your statements up with data.

Things the scientist needs to know: At some point in the meeting, you will be called on by the town official to make an expert statement regarding the status of the bloom, the impact it has had on the environment thus far, and the impact you expect it have in the future. Remember that although you are an “expert” on the topic, your job is not to dictate what should be done but rather what the science tells us.

Health Official
The health official works at the local hospital. Your job is to present the health-related facts concerning harmful algal blooms and this bloom in particular. Like the scientist, you should be prepared to back your statements up with data.

Things the health official needs to know: You have seen several cases of respiratory irritation at the hospital over the past few days. You have also treated 4 people for unexplained vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness in the past 24 hours. Three of the four people had eaten clams at a local seafood restaurant the evening before.

Hotel/Restaurant Owner (at least 1)
The hotel/restaurant owner has a hotel and restaurant right on the beach. Your income is derived solely from the tourism industry. You advertise that your seafood is obtained from local sources. Your business is most lucrative in the summer and fall when tourism is at a peak in Habport. During the off-season, you host many conferences for businesses and other organizations.

Things the hotel/restaurant owner needs to know: Several guests have recently complained about dead fish washing up on the beach by the hotel swimming area. One of your lifeguards visited the emergency room the other day because she was having trouble breathing after her shift. You had to call the police this morning to escort a man off of your property. He entered your lobby yelling that the world was ending and that the dead fish were just the beginning. You were notified by the hospital that some people had gotten sick after eating clams at your restaurant the other night. You have since taken them off of the menu and notified your provider.

Fishing Industry (at least 1)
The people representing the fishing industry have a variety of jobs. One of you earns your income fishing the local waters and selling your catch to local restaurants. One of you earns your income by harvesting shellfish and selling them to local restaurants, as well as shipping your frozen catch to various parts of the country. The third one of your group earns your income by taking tourists out on your boat for day trips. You provide the bait and the equipment, and the customers take home the fish they catch. All three of you make the bulk of your income in the summer and fall when tourism is at its peak in Habport.

Things the fishing industry needs to know: You have noticed that the water has seemed murkier in some areas lately; in some places it almost looks red. You have also seen dead fish in the waters – not very appealing to those tourists on your day trips. You were just told by one of your restaurant customers that they will no longer be purchasing any of your shellfish until you can provide proof that they are not “bad.”

Habport Country Club Owner
The country club owner runs a beautiful 9-hole golf course along the coast. Although it is only 9 holes, it is a favorite spot for tourists. Many visitors to Habport plan their visits around the annual Habport Open in August. People make reservations a year in advance due to the popularity of the event. One reason for its popularity is that all money raised by the Habport Country Club during the event is donated to the local Community Center.

Things the golf course owner needs to know: Over the past 3 days, you have received several phone calls from people asking about the safety of the local waters and questioning whether they should come to the Habport Open scheduled in 2 weeks. One foursome has already cancelled their reservation.

Manager of Wastewater Treatment Plant
The manager of the wastewater treatment plant runs the local office located on the outskirts of Habport. The plant processes the wastewater produced by Habport and returns the cleaned water to the environment, or reuses it for irrigation and landscaping Although the plant is in operation year-round, it experiences a greater demand during the tourism season when the population of the town has been known to increase by a power of ten.

Things the manager needs to know: The state office of environmental quality inspects your plant every 3 years. You have passed every inspection with flying colors since you have been manager. During your last inspection, you discussed the increasing population of Habport and the possible need for a facility that has a greater capacity.

Organic Farmer
The organic farmer runs a certified organic farm on the outskirts of Habport. You have dairy cows, chickens, and various crops. Most of your income is derived from selling your products in local and regional stores; however, you also supply many of the local restaurants with organic products – a feature which has become very popular on the local restaurant menus over the past few years.

Things the farmer needs to know: You have been farming your land organically for the past 10 years. You only recently acquired your dairy cows (3 years ago).

Concerned Citizens (remainder of class or another class)
The concerned citizens are residents of Habport. You are attending the meeting out of concern for your town. At some point during the meeting, you will have the opportunity to ask questions of the meeting participants and to propose your own ideas on possible solutions.

Things the citizens need to know: What you know of the algal bloom is what you have read in the newspapers and seen on the news. Some of you may have noticed signs of the bloom around town. You have several interests which include, but are not restricted to: (1) the health of your families, (2) the stability of your income, (3) the local environment, and (4) the economic survival of your town.

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This table summarizes the McREL science standards that are met through this lesson. To see a detailed list of standards that this lesson addresses, please click here.

Grade Level
Primary (K-2)  
Elementary (3-5)  
Middle (6-8)
High School (9-12)  

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