MERHAB 2011: Project Summaries

   Print  PDF  Change text to small (default) Change text to medium Change text to large

Monitoring, Forecasting, and Enhanced Response to PSP and DSP Events in New York Coastal Waters

Institutions: Stony Brook University (lead), NOAA National Ocean Service/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Investigators: Christopher J. Gobler (lead), Steve L. Morton, and Karen Chytalo


Introduction to the Problem: Globally, the phytoplankton communities of many coastal ecosystems have become increasingly dominated by toxic algal blooms and New York’s coastal waters are a prime example of this trend. Prior to 2006, algal blooms in NY were well-known for their ability to disrupt coastal ecosystem and fisheries, but were never considered a human health threat. Since then, blooms of the saxitoxin-producing dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense(>1,000,000 cells L-1) have led to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP)-induced closures of nearly 10,000 acres of shellfish beds in Northport and Huntington Bays during four of the past five years. In 2008, a second toxic dinoflagellate,Dinophysis acuminata, began forming large, annual blooms (> 100,000 cells L-1) that have generated the toxins okadaic acid and DTX-1, both of which are the causative agents of diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) syndrome.

Rationale and Management Relevance: The agency responsible for shellfish sanitation in New York (NY), the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), currently does not have the technologies at their disposal to rapidly respond to PSP and much of the NYS coastline is not assessed for PSP.  Furthermore, NYSDEC has yet to monitor DSP in NY shellfish or in the water column. Finally, despite their on-going oyster aquaculture program, NY’s Shinnecock Indian Nation has never monitored their waters or shellfish for DSP or PSP. Collectively, these observations demonstrate the serious need for enhanced monitoring, forecasting, and response to PSP and DSP events in New York’s coastal waters.

Scientific Objectives: The goals of this project will be to: 1. Constrain the precise spatial and temporal dynamics of Alexandrium fundyense, Dinophysis acuminata, their toxins, and associated environmental conditions present in all of NYS’s marine waters including the coastal waters of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. 2. Improve technologies used by NYSDEC’s Bureau of Marine Resources staff for monitoring A. fundyense, D. acuminata, their toxins (in water and shellfish), and key environmental parameters. 3. Develop early warning systems and forecast models to protect NYS residents against PSP and DSP exposure.

Approach: Pelagic monitoring across NYS’s coastal waters will quantify A. fundyense, D. acuminata, their toxins, and key environmental parameters before, during, and after bloom events. In situ water quality sondes will be deployed to assess the linkage between key environmental parameters and PSP and DSP events. Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) will be deployed in bags in parallel with solid-phase adsorption toxin tracking (SPATT) samplers and the harvest of wild clams to assess the ability of each approach to act as sentinels for PSP and DSP accumulation. Toxins in shellfish and SPATT will be quantified by means of ELISA (PSP & DSP), PP2A (DSP), HPLC (PSP) LC-MS (DSP), mouse bioassay (PSP), and the Jellet rapid tests (PSP & DSP).

Expected Outputs/Outcomes: Such a cross comparison of toxin quantification methods will assist in determining the fastest, most economical, and most reliable method for rapidly responding to HABs and quickly closing shellfish beds. Pelagic monitoring data and the delineation of A. fundyense cyst beds will be coupled with statistical analyses to assess the extent to which A. fundyense, D. acuminata, PSP and DSP toxins in water and within shellfish, and sundry environmental variables can be linked and forecasted.

Read the New York Sea Grant Press Release here.

HAB Detection Instrument Validation and Transition to State Monitoring Program

Institutions: University of Maine (lead) and Maine Department of Marine Resources

Investigators: Laurie B. Connell (lead) and Darcie Couture


Introduction to the Problem: Detection and enumeration of the paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) producing organism Alexandriumspp. can be problematic.Alexandriumblooms generally do not involve large cell accumulations that discolor the water and may be below the water surface where they are not visible. Low-density populations can cause severe problems due to the high potency of the toxins produced by these species. Alexandriumspecies that produce PSTs (e.g. Alexandrium tamarense, A. fundyense, and A. catenellaspecies complex) are difficult to distinguish morphologically from non-PST producing species (e.g. Alexandrium ostenfeldii), and current identification methods are expensive, time-consuming, and require special training. HABs vary interannually in location, intensity, and duration, making detection and prediction challenging areas of current research.

Rationale and Management Relevance: Maine has historically had blooms each year that result in shellfish harvest closures and the monitoring efforts cost nearly $300,000 per year for the Maine and New Hampshire paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) monitoring program. Streamlining the identification of harmful microbes such as PST producing Alexandriumspp. directly from environmental samples is currently a high priority for phytoplankton monitoring divisions of water quality managers. Early warning of increased HAB cell numbers can help toxin monitoring programs preserve the safe harvest of shellfish from toxin-free areas of the coast, as well as to redirect resources to target vulnerable locations. Limited resources in many state programs require that the manager adopts a “broad-brush” approach to testing and closures, which may result in many smaller, but resource-rich, toxin-free areas becoming bound up in a larger scale closure generated by limited data collection. Likewise, the dynamic nature of HABs can sometimes result in an unexpected emergence of dangerous toxin levels in areas that are otherwise considered “low-risk” for toxin intrusion, and may therefore receive little or no regular testing. Better monitoring tools for HAB species will help to maximize safe harvest areas, as well as protect public health and prevent negative economic impacts on the shellfish industry which would result if a shellfish recall became necessary due to lack of timely testing in an area where dangerous levels of toxins had recently appeared.

Scientific Objectives: This project proposes to transition two instruments, Surface Plasmon Instrumentation for the Rapid Identification of Toxins (SPIRIT) and Portable Optical Sensing System for Environmental samples (POSSE) from their development phase to the end user groups using the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Biotoxin Monitoring Program as a program demonstration model. The emerging technology of peptide nucleic acids (PNA) is used as an alternative method for direct-detection sensors that are either not feasible or not sensitive enough with the currently available DNA or RNA based capture probes for these particular instrument platforms. These detection devices will undergo cross platform validation and rigorous field-testing prior to deployment with the Maine DMR laboratories and the volunteers in the Maine DMR monitoring network. Feed-back from the end-users will help in the refinement of the instruments prior to final deployment.

Expected Outputs/Outcomes: These detection platforms will form the basis of a new generation of devices that are user-friendly, rapid, stable, and inexpensive, as well as develop a three-tiered detection network for the Maine DMR to regulate shellfish bed closures to ensure both the public health and to maintain shellfish harvests when possible.

Incorporation of Environmental Sample Processor Technology into Gulf of Maine HAB Monitoring and Management

Institutions: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (lead), University of Maine, and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Investigators: Donald M. Anderson (lead), Dennis J. McGillicuddy, Jr., Bruce Keafer, David W. Townsend, and Christopher A. Scholin


Introduction to the Problem: Coastal waters of New England are subject to recurrent outbreaks of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) caused by the dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense. Nearshore shellfish beds between the Canadian border and Cape Cod are closed annually to harvesting, and thousands of km2 of offshore Federal waters have been closed for over 20 years due to PSP toxins as well.  An emerging threat in the region is amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).

Rationale and Management Relevance: Managers currently use shellfish tissue testing at shore-based stations to detect HAB toxins and issue closures. Although successful in protecting public health, these programs only monitor past conditions and cannot foresee or prepare for conditions that are forced by larger scale phenomena in the offshore environment which may modify nearshore toxicity. Yet another monitoring challenge reflects the strong push by the shellfish industry to reopen closed portions of Georges Bank for harvesting, where an estimated $50 million sustainable annual resource is present. These shellfish lie in offshore (federal) waters and are logistically difficult and expensive to monitor. Now, new technologies for cell detection allow us to take a significant step forward in HAB monitoring and management in the Gulf of Maine. Specifically, the development and commercial availability of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) opens the door to the purchase and deployment of moored instruments at key locations to detect and enumerate toxic cells and radio the information to shore, providing early warning as well as time series of cell abundance to inform managers and improve the accuracy of forecasts. In the past, this capability was only available to the ESP developer at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). Now, through a $2M award to PI Anderson from the NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program and additional support from EPA and NOAA, six ESPs are available for research and monitoring activities in the Gulf of Maine. The MRI award purchased the instruments, but provides no funds for deployment or operation. Here we propose to leverage these assets and augment the regional HAB monitoring program substantially.

Scientific Objectives: Near real-time estimates of Alexandriumand Pseudo-nitzschia cell abundance will be provided through a proof-of-concept demonstration of the feasibility, value, and cost of ESP and associated sensor measurements in routine HAB monitoring and ocean observing operations. Four years of field deployments of ESPs and contextual sensors are planned, with the locations and schedule of those moorings determined from discussions with managers and industry representatives on the project's Technical Advisory Committee. Mooring sites will include both nearshore and offshore locations in state and federal waters, each with different logistical challenges and management value. Mooring operations, which are a significant aspect of this project, will be supervised by the WHOI Mooring Operations, Engineering and Field Support Group. Concurrently, the project will develop methods to assimilate ESP data into our numerical model, and will utilize those models and results from this project to design an optimum array of ESPs for future management purposes.

Expected Outputs/Outcomes: In Year 5, the project will synthesize data and work with management partners and other stakeholders to transition ESP technology to operational use for HABs in the Gulf of Maine. Efforts will be made to assist managers with the decisions and challenges related to future ESP deployments under their jurisdiction.

Last updated: July 11, 2016