Phytoplankton Monitoring Network

PMN > About the Project

About the Project

Promoting a better understanding of harmful algal blooms by way of volunteer monitoring

PMN staff


The people who make the PMN possible. [more]

PMN partners


Organizations that have assisted in the success of the PMN. [more]


The Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) was established to monitor marine phytoplankton and harmful algal blooms (HABs). PMN's goals include:

  • Monitor and maintain an extended survey area along coastal waters throughout the year
  • Create a comprehensive list of harmful algal species inhabiting coastal marine waters
  • Identify general trends where harmful algal blooms (HABs) are more likely to occur
  • Isolate areas prone to HABs for further study by Marine Biotoxins researchers in effort to assist state managers in mitigating the affects of HABs
  • Promote an increased awareness and education to the public on HABs
  • Create a working relationship between volunteers and Marine Biotoxins researchers
  • Increase the public's awareness of research conducted by federal workers on HABs


In 2001, Dr. Steve Morton established the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) as part of South Carolina’s Pfiesteria and harmful algal bloom (HAB) surveillance program. With startup funding from the South Carolina Task Group on Harmful Algae, the PMN was created within NOAA’s Marine Biotoxins Program as an outreach program for monitoring marine phytoplankton and HABs. Located at the Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research (CCEHBR), in Charleston, SC, the Biotoxins program targets its research to better understand the regulation of HABs responsible for the production of algal toxins and toxic impacts of algal toxins on marine species and humans to meet the mandate of the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research Control Act. The Biotoxins program supports HAB forecasts and event response investigations through the Analytical Response Team, the Technology Transfer Team and the PMN.

PMN volunteers are trained by NOAA staff on sampling techniques and identification methods for marine phytoplankton. There are over 50 genera, including 10 potentially toxin producing genera, of dinoflagellates and diatoms on the volunteers watch list. Since the inception of the program in 2001, more than 250 algal blooms and 15 toxic events have been reported by PMN volunteers. HAB species observed by the network include Dinophysis caudata, Dinophysis acuta, Dinophysis ovum, Karlodinium micrum, Prorocentrum lima, Pseudo-nitzschia pseudodelicatissima, Pseudo-nitzschia multiseries, and Pseudo-nitzschia pungens.

Data PMN volunteers collect provides an important look into species composition and distribution in coastal waters. Data which can lead researchers to identify areas to isolate for further investigation. The following are examples of how volunteer collected data have been utilized.

  • 2009:
    • Phytoplankton Monitoring Network volunteers efforts in the Alaska Kachemak Bay silver salmon mortality event, lead to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game changing its smolt release procedure to include phytoplankton observations.
    • Discovery of a widespread Pseudo-nitzschia bloom by the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network and confirmation of domoic acid toxic shellfish by the NOAA Analytical Response Team helps alert resource managers of new threat to the northern Gulf of Mexico.
  • 2008:
    • Identification of Trichodesmium bloom collected by Phytoplankton Monitoring Network volunteers in east coast of Florida provides layer of validation support to HAB forecasting.
    • Bioluminescent algal bloom observation by Texas Phytoplankton Monitoring Network volunteers provides coastal managers an opportunity to track movement of a harmful algal bloom (HAB).
  • 2007:
    • Phytoplankton Monitoring Network identification of harmful algal bloom leads to detection of neurotoxin in pygmy sperm whales.
    • Observation of Karenia brevis by Alabama Phytoplankton Monitoring Network volunteers provides coastal managers a new layer of validation to HAB forecasting.
  • 2006:
    • First time identification of toxic Pseudo-nitzschia algal bloom in North Carolina alerts coastal managers to potential for human amnesic shellfish poisoning and domoic acid toxicity to marine animals.
  • 2005:
    • Phytoplankton Monitoring Network identifies first recorded bloom of a toxic Pseudo-nitzschia species in North Carolina waters.