MERHAB 2015: Project Summaries

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MERHAB: Training Course on the Identification of Harmful Algae in United States Marine Waters

Institutions:  Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences,Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, , University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Investigators:  Michael W. Lomas, (Lead), Cynthia A. Heil, Karen A. Steidinger, Carmelo Tomas, Rita Horner

Effective monitoring and management of harmful algal blooms (HABs) relies on accurate and timely identification of the species involved. The classic method of detection is microscopic examination for HA species based on morphological characteristics. Other non-traditional tools for species identification are genetic probes, optical pattern recognition systems, and similar technologies under development for fixed and mobile platforms. The rapidly expanding HA taxonomy field, retirement of many ‘classical’ taxonomists, lack of dedicated U. S. HA taxonomic and identification training programs, and increased use of non- traditional methods of HA identification all contribute to an increasing need for comprehensive training in identification and taxonomic for U.S. HA managers, scientists and technicians.

Objectives: 1) Provide expert training and certificate of proficiency in HA identification to increase the number of U.S. HA analysts providing accurate and timely data to managers for management decisions; 2) establish course material for an ongoing U.S. HAB identification and taxonomy class; and 3) provide familiarity with alternate identification technologies.

Approach: Annual training programs, for a three year period, will consist of web-based, pre-course preparatory module and a 2 week intensive course in which classic HA identification and taxonomy will be taught, with several specialized lectures on newer HAB identification and quantification methodologies. The course will first be open to local, state and federal government workers involved in all aspects of HAB management and research, then graduate students and others involved in HAB research, for a total of 14 participants per course. Course content will consist of training material handouts, lectures, hands-on demonstrations with live and preserved species and demonstrations of methods for collection, treatment of samples, enumeration and culturing techniques. HA species from the Bacillariophyceae, Dinophyceae, Prymnesiophyceae, Raphidophyceae, Dictyochophyceae and marine Cyanophyceae will be the focus, with many either in the Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota or available from the instructors. Over 70 of the known HA species will be demonstrated with morphologically similar species for purposes of comparison and differentiation, with a shifting annual focus between the three NOAA HAB regions. Certificates of proficiency will be provided for successful completion of the course. Students will be encouraged to continue their learning and networking between fellow students and instructors facilitated through a dedicated course listserve.

Work to be completed: Development of three HA web-based, pre-course preparatory modules and regionally focused identification and taxonomy courses, with post-completion

certificates given to successful students. A guide to the course will be prepared as a handout and made available on a website at the end of the 3rd year to assist with transitioning the class to abiannual course offered through the Bigelow Laboratory summer course series.


Improving tools for monitoring multiple HAB toxins at the land-Sea Interface in Coastal California (HAB-SICC)

Institutions:  Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), University of California Santa Cruz; University of Southern California, U.S. Geological Survey, US EPA,  San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, Yurok Tribe

Investigators M. Howard (Lead P.I.) R. Kudela, D. Caron,; K. Loftin,; Neil Chernoff, L. Busse, S. Fluharty

Introduction of the problem: The conventional focus of HAB monitoring has generally been water body-dependent, focusing on marine or freshwater toxins, but not both. Freshwater HAB toxins have previously been considered a public health issue only for fresh water, but recent studies have shown that cyanobacterial toxins have effects reaching far downstream, creating issues in brackish and marine waters. The mortality of over 30 endangered sea otters in Monterey Bay from microcystins (MCY) in contaminated marine bivalves exemplify the threat these toxins pose in marine ecosystems. MCY contamination has been reported from marine waters of the Klamath and San Francisco estuaries and Rodeo Lagoon from river inputs to Monterey Bay, coastal lagoons and estuaries in San Diego and many California streams.  Other cyanotoxins (saxitoxin, cylindrospermopsin, anatoxin-a) have been detected in fresh waterbodies in California that connect to the coastal ocean, but are not routinely screened in marine outflows.

Rationale: There is widespread interest within the California management community in using monitoring tools such as passive samplers (Solid Phase Adsorption Toxin Tracking, SPATT), to augment routine HAB monitoring programs. A necessary first step is to improve and vet these tools, field-test, and demonstrate their management application for routine monitoring programs. This will enhance current HAB monitoring in California, provide a coordinated regional monitoring and event response strategy that can be implemented on a statewide basis, and will provide a much needed survey of toxins and toxigenic organisms at the land-sea interface.

Objectives: The objectives are to (1) determine the predominance and extent of both marine and freshwater HAB species and toxins present at the land-sea interface, (2) demonstrate/validate how SPATT can be incorporated into existing monitoring programs as a time-integrated, cost effective approach, (3) facilitate the incorporation of an integrated HAB monitoring strategy at the land-sea interface into existing HAB and water quality monitoring programs

Summary of Work: The proposed project builds on previous work in Monterey Bay that developed and demonstrated the use of SPATT samplers for domoic acid, okadaic acid, and MCY monitoring at the land/sea interface. We will (1) conduct a field survey to determine the relevant HAB species and toxins, establish cultures of putative toxin-producing species, using a variety of strategies and methodologies (including mouse bioassays) to establish the presence of freshwater cyanotoxins along the CA coast, (2) validate and field-test SPATT technology using information from the field survey and cultured HABs, (3) improve the monitoring technology of SPATT for incorporation into routine monitoring programs, (4) implement an integrated multitoxin HAB strategy at the land-sea interface and transition SPATT technology to end-users and management agencies. The proposed project will facilitate implementation of an integrated monitoring strategy by relevant groups through a targeted interactive webinar focused on augmentation of existing monitoring efforts with SPATT and with improved knowledge of the toxins and toxigenic species present at the land-sea interface


Clear and present danger: monitoring and management of lipophilic shellfish toxins in Washington State

Investigators: Vera L. Trainer (co-lead) and Jerry Borchert (co-lead), Jon Deeds, Gregory Doucette, Urban Tillmann, Neil Harrington, Nick Adams

Institutions:  NOAA NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, WA, Washington State Department of Health, US FDA, NOAA/NOS/NCCOS/CCEHBR,  Alfred-Wegner Institute, Germany,  Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, WA

Introduction: Lipophilic shellfish toxins comprise an extensive suite of compounds including those associated with the human syndromes known as diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and azaspiracid shellfish poisoning (AZP). As a result of recent bloom events and subsequent human intoxications in Washington State (USA) due to DSP, there is a critical and urgent need for State public health officials to be able to monitor and accurately quantify harmful algal bloom (HAB) species associated with DSP and azaspiracid shellfish poisoning (AZP) and their toxins. There is now evidence that lipophilic toxins associated with DSP and AZP are present in water and/or shellfish, including oysters and mussels from Puget Sound and razor clams from the WA coast.

Rationale: State agencies (e.g., Washington State Department of Health; WDOH), responsible for ensuring shellfish safety, have requested an interlaboratory comparison of DSP toxin analysis and an assessment of the risk of AZAs in WA State shellfish. In 2010, the phytoplankton monitoring program, SoundToxins, recorded Dinophysis abundance in Sequim Bay, WA, at 298,000 cells/L – one of the highest densities of Dinophysis ever recorded worldwide. Although several algal species associated with DSP have been recorded in WA waters for at least the last 10 years, information about their spatiotemporal distribution and toxicity is limited. In the case of AZAs, nothing is known about the organism(s) producing these toxins in US waters, however these toxins have been found in the water and/or shellfish at concerning levels (ca. 60 mg/kg) in Puget Sound shellfish.

Objectives: The objectives of the proposed study are to: 1) Identify and spatio-temporally characterize the distribution of phytoplankton species that produce DSP toxins and azaspiracids accumulating in Washington State shellfish, 2) Establish and validate a tiered early warning system for DSP and AZP events, including routine microscopy by SoundToxins/ORHAB partners, and rapid toxin screening in seawater and shellfish, 3) Assist State managers in establishing globally accepted protocols for quantifying lipophilic toxins as part of their biotoxin monitoring program, 4) Inform and educate stakeholders about lipophilic toxin risk and management with the goal of transitioning the project to State funding at the end of 3 years.

Approach: Tight partnership with WDOH, the SoundToxins program, Olympic Region Harmful Algal Blooms (ORHAB) partnership, and Puget Sound shellfish growers (including the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe and other tribal representatives) will facilitate the study of the seasonal variability of lipophilic toxins and toxin-producing species at 10 geographically-distinct sites within Washington State waters where seawater or shellfish have recently been contaminated with these toxins. Stakeholder support throughout the project will ensure the transition of this project to the State at the end of 3 years as we have successfully demonstrated with ORHAB. Implementing routine lipophilic biotoxin monitoring will be a critical first step towards ensuring public safety while also enabling Washington State shellfish growers to sell their product to the European Union once trade is re-established.



Last updated: July 11, 2016