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CSCOR Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Event Response Examples


Transfer of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Toxin Assays to Alaska

Training on rapid screening tools was provided to Alaska State and university scientists, regulators, and educators and shellfish industry leaders.
Training on rapid screening tools was provided to Alaska State and university scientists, regulators, and educators and shellfish industry leaders. (Credit: B. Himmelbloom, University of Alaska Fairbanks).

In June of 2010, five Alaskans exhibited signs of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) linked to eating shellfish tainted with the algal toxin, saxitoxin. Two of these people died soon after suffering tingling of lips, mouth, and other PSP symptoms and the State confirmed PSP as the cause of at least one of these fatalities. Alaska has vast shellfish resources yet currently conducts no routine screening for safety of recreationally-harvested shellfish. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) uses the mouse bioassay (MBA) for regulatory testing of commercial shellfish in Alaska. However, the reliance of ADEC on the MBA has limited the agency's ability to rapidly screen shellfish for toxins, e.g., in samples collected from the area of the reported PSP events near Haines, AK, in 2010. Disadvantages of the MBA include the use of live animals and the difficulty of processing large numbers of samples on the same day. However, antibody-based toxin screening methods like the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) have been found to be suitable for screening large numbers of shellfish and seawater samples to rapidly assess the presence of toxins. Washington State currently uses these ELISA tests in conjunction with MBA testing to justify regulatory actions, for example ELISA can be used to maintain areas currently open to shellfishing in its open status. CSCOR event response funding was requested to help introduce rapid HAB screening tools in Alaska. CSCOR funds helped to support a training workshop on the Abraxis ELISA for PSP toxins. The workshop was held in March 2011 in Ketchikan, Alaska and was led by Kate Sullivan, University of Alaska Southeast, a leader in the Alaska Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring Partnership and NOAA partners from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the NCCOS Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research. Participants included researchers and regulators from Alaska Departments of Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game; researchers and educators from the University of Alaska system; industry representatives including commercial shellfish fisheries directors, as well as shellfish farmers directly impacted by HAB events.


CSCOR Award Helps New York Ensure Continued Seafood Safety

In late April 2010 the Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) Harmful Algal Bloom Event Response program provided funds to New York State Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources allowing them to continue monitoring paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxin levels in Long Island Sound molluscan shellfish. State officials were concerned about rising Alexandrium algal cell numbers and some shellfish samples testing positive for low levels of PSP toxin in the Huntington/Northport complex of bays and harbors in western Suffolk County.  In past years rising Alexandrium cell abundance in this area has historically been a precursor to PSP toxin levels in harvestable shellfish that exceed regulatory-acceptable thresholds. Further, due to a delayed enactment of the New York State 2010-11 operating budget, officials were unable to support necessary increases in monitoring effort and the state biotoxin laboratory was unable to complete regulatory testing required by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Map showing the maximum closures of shellfish harvest areas due to the marine biotoxins during the 2010 Alexandrium bloom.
Map showing the maximum closures of shellfish harvest areas due to the marine biotoxins during the 2010 Alexandrium bloom. (Credit: NYSDEC-Bureau of Marine Resources).

NOAA funding helped the state maintain its ability to screen waters for Alexandrium-like cells and shellfish for the algal toxins and to provide the rigorous testing required for determining if closures were needed to protect human health. NOAA covered costs for shipping shellfish tissue samples to an NSSP-approved biotoxin lab run by the State of Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Additionally, funds were used to purchase a quantity of rapid test kits for use by state scientists to help determine the extent and severity of the HAB event. Monitoring focused on the Huntington\ Northport Bay complex and Meetinghouse Creek, a tributary of the Peconic estuary located in eastern Suffolk County. In the Meetinghouse Creek area, levels of PSP toxins in sentinel shellfish species never reached actionable levels. However, in the Huntington\ Northport Bay complex initial screening of sentinel shellfish showed a level of PSP toxins that exceeded the alert level. This led to an initial closure order enacted by the state on May 12 prohibiting shellfish harvesting from ~2200 acres of Northport Bay and two adjacent tributary harbors.  On May 18, a new order expanded the impacted shellfish areas to ~7500 acres throughout all the bays and harbors in the Huntington/Northport complex (see map). This was the maximum area closed due to PSP toxins in 2010 and the greatest HAB toxin impact since New York State first implemented biotoxin closures in 2006.  Based on the Maine DMR mouse bioassay results from samples shipped with CSCOR support, New York state was able to implement a partial re-opening (~5300 acres) on June 4 (note the linked press release erroneously mentions May 28 as the expanded closure date). The final re-opening of the remaining 2200 acres was implemented on June 16. Monitoring continued through to the end of June 2010. The CSCOR award enabled New York to continue to operate its well-established and rigorous shellfish monitoring program, in the face of state budget uncertainty, maintaining protection of the health of shellfish consumers and protecting one of the most valuable fisheries for New York State.

Event Response Award Restores Monitoring Instrument Critical to Texas State Response to toxic Dinophysis event

Imaging Flow Cytobot shown in the lab of Dr. Lisa Campbell (Texas A&M University) identifies phytoplankton cells from water sampled at the Port Aransas Pier.
Imaging Flow Cytobot shown in the lab of Dr. Lisa Campbell (Texas A&M University) identifies phytoplankton cells from water sampled at the Port Aransas Pier. (Photos courtesy of Lisa Campbell Texas A&M University)

By the end of April 2010, a harmful bloom of Dinophysis ovum and Dinophysis caudata had produced high levels of toxin, okadaic acid in Texas shellfish forcing the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to close the oyster harvest and the majority of state coastal waters to any shellfish harvesting. The bloom was first detected by the lab-based sampling device known as the Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB) which tested water sampled at the pier at Port Aransas, Texas. Daily updates on Dinophysis abundance from IFCB helped state officials evaluate the ongoing bloom and assess the risk to public health risk. DSHS used daily IFCB updates on Dinophysis abundance to help plan their shellfish testing and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department used the data to focus water sampling. Seven days after the closure was issued the IFCB computer failed and the system would not reboot. This compromised the State’s ability to determine when it was safe to re-open the oyster harvest. Given that rapid intoxification and detoxification of shellfish had been noted in a 2008 Texas Dinophysis event, the lack of continuous monitoring data for even a few days could be costly to the Texas shellfish industry. CSCOR HAB Event Response funds allowed for a successful operation that quickly diagnosed and replaced damaged computer components in the IFCB. Support from CSCOR enabled the IFCB to be put back in service to support the Texas HAB response effort in 2010 and in 2011.


Emergency Funding to Aid New England Red Tide Response

Sieved Water
Photo caption: Alexandrium cells are retained as two liters of a sample of 'red water' are poured through a 20 µg sieve. (WHOI / B. Keafer)

In late June of 2009, tumultuous weather and significant northeast winds along the coast of Maine concentrated toxic Alexandrium cells inshore, resulting in a shutdown of nearly all shellfish beds in coastal Maine in early July due to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins. Only a few very small areas were not affected. On July 10, researchers conducting an ECOHAB GOMTOX mooring recovery and redeployment effort, spotted visible patches of Alexandrium off Portsmouth, NH (blooms of this species are rarely concentrated enough to be visible). With emergency response funding from NOS and CSCOR HAB Event Response, researchers from WHOI, in partnership with the University of Maine, quickly took action to survey the waters in the Gulf of Maine. The emergency response funding supported sampling, mapping and forecasting of red tide location and intensity. This effort helped state managers focus their PSP monitoring resources in areas with the greatest opportunity to reopen for harvesting, helping them minimize economic impacts while maintaining strong human health protections from PSP. The Food and Drug Administration and NOAA's Fisheries Service also needed this critical information to decide whether to close federal waters to shellfish harvesting under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.


Sampling to Determine Fisheries Impacts of the 2008 Cochlodinium polykrikoides Bloom in the James River and its Tributaries
In August 2008, a bloom of Cochlodinium polykrikoides extended from the Elizabeth River, VA, into the James River, VA, and out into the Chesapeake Bay. Such an extensive bloom and its southerly penetration was unusual but also occurred in 2007. Findings from the 2007 CSCOR HAB Event Response project determined significant impacts to juvenile fish and oysters. In 2008, HAB Event Response awarded funds to researchers from Old Dominion University again to focus on determining the impacts of bloom-affected waters on growth and survival of menhaden, which is an important fishery in the region. Researchers worked closely with the state of Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District during this response.

Investigating PSP Toxicity in Lobster Tomalley during 2008 Alexandrium Outbreak

During the large New England Red Tide of 2008, the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and the Food and Drug Administration issued advisory warnings against eating lobster tomalley after preliminary analyses revealed high levels of the toxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in tomalley of some lobsters. CSCOR HAB Event Response awarded funds to the Maine Department of Marine Resources to investigate the geographic extent of PSP toxins in lobster tomalley in Maine and New Hampshire waters, the dietary source of the toxins for lobsters, and toxin retention time in lobster tissues. These data were critical to help managers issue accurate advisories to protect human health without unnecessary economic harm to this important fishery. Further, this research provided preliminary data to justify future more detailed studies, funded by Federal red tide disaster relief, that will improve management of the fishery.

Extending monitoring of 2008 Alexandrium Outbreak in New England

In response to an intense New England Red Tide of 2008 that developed in the western Gulf of Maine (GOM) as predicted, CSCOR HAB Event Response provided several awards that allowed researchers to extend sampling for abundance of the New England Red Tide organism (Alexandrium) to the Western Gulf of Maine and southern New England waters. The first response award supported sampling transects off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts after a significant number of cells were observed at three underway stations around Monomoy Island and Nauset during an ECOHAB GOMTOX cruise. Another award supported surveys in coastal waters of western Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, as well as areas to the west of Nantucket Shoals towards Rhode Island. The Event Response awards allowed sampling of about 150 additional stations, which complemented sampling by the ECOHAB GOMTOX project that was conducting surveys of Alexandrium primarily in the southern Gulf of Maine (including Georges Bank) but also on selected transects in the coastal Gulf of Maine. For more on prediction and response of the 2008 New England Red Tide, click here.

Assisting Texas in Addressing an Unusual Harmful Algal Bloom

CSCOR HAB Event Response provided assistance to Texas state managers during an unprecedented diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) event. The HAB Event Response funding supported sampling and analysis to document this unique event and to help the state determine when shellfish were again safe for harvesting. The event was caused by a bloom of the dinoflagellate, Dinophysis acuminata, which produces a toxin called okadaic acid that can accumulate in shellfish and cause DSP in human consumers. D. acuminata has never been seen at such concentrated bloom levels in this region. It was first detected by scientists from Texas A&M University, who were demonstrating a new in situ detection technology, supported by the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology, a partnership between NOAA’s National Ocean Service and the University of New Hampshire. The early detection of this species protected human health by allowing managers to issue a timely recall of potentially contaminated oysters, clams, and mussels from the Fulton Oysterfest, a local Oyster festival in Aransas County, Texas, and to close the Aransas, Corpus Christi, and Copano bays to harvesting. Scientists from NOAA’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment also modeled potential transport of the bloom to nearby regions to help the state develop monitoring and sampling strategies to minimize negative effects on the economy and health of local residents. Results from the HAB Event Response project are informing development of a protocol by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for Dinophysis bloom response to be added to the Texas HAB Response Plan.


Investigating a Fish Killing Karlodinium bloom in Weeks Bay, Alabama

Violet Goby showing hemorrhaging characteristic of karlotoxin exposure. Photo courtesy of Lucie Novoveska

In late September of 2007, Event Response provided funds to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Alabama Department of Public Health, and University of Maryland to support sampling and toxin analysis during a highly toxic bloom of Karlodinium veneficum in the Weeks Bay (Alabama) National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) site. The Karlodinium bloom began in late June and was associated with five fish kills from June through late September, including one event in which several thousand Violet Gobies died. Toxin analysis confirmed karlotoxin in tissues of Violet Gobies. The Karlodinium bloom was then succeeded by a dense bloom of Kryptoperidinium folaceum that lasted through October. The Karlodinium bloom was consistently found where the Fish River and Weeks Bay converge, and initial results indicated higher nitrogen and phosphorus than observed in previous years. Sampling and analysis during these bloom events will be beneficial for discovering bloom causation and for formulating a management plan that protects the resources of the Weeks Bay NERRS site.

Investigating Extent and Impacts of Cochlodinium bloom in Chesapeake Bay and Tributaries

Cochlodinium polykrikoides bloom in Hampton Creek, VA. Photo courtesy of Christy Everett, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Cochlodinium polykrikoides bloom in Hampton Creek, VA. Photo courtesy of Christy Everett, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

In September 2007, Event Response provided emergency funds to scientists at Old Dominion University, VA, and Stony Brook University, NY, to sample the extent and investigate fishery impacts of a bloom caused by the dinoflagellate Cochlodinium polykrikoides occurring in the Chesapeake Bay and some of its tributaries. The bloom, which likely originated in the Elizabeth River and then spread into other rivers and the Bay, was associated with fish kills and caused beach closures, extensive media coverage, and public alarm in Virginia. There was also concern that the bloom could interfere with on-going oyster spat planting activities in the region. Initial toxicity tests showed rapid larval fish mortality when exposed to bloom samples, and similar tests with oyster spat showed 20% mortality in 48 hours. The researchers coordinated with other responders throughout the region, such as those conducting aerial overflights of the bloom, to maximize sampling efficiency. These data aided mitigation of the event as it was occurring, and the knowledge gained will improve management capabilities for future events.


Mitigating Impacts of Fish Killing Algal Bloom in Puget Sound, Washington

Heterosigma bloom. Photo courtesy of Kevin Bright, AGS Inc.
Heterosigma bloom. Photo courtesy of Kevin Bright, AGS Inc.

In August 2006, Event Response provided emergency funds to coordinate efforts for mitigating impacts of a fish killing bloom of the harmful alga, Heterosigma, in Puget Sound. In late June and early July 2006, major farmed fish losses occurred in Northern Puget Sound and Port Angeles Harbor due to a bloom that originated in Northern Puget Sound. In early August, a separate bloom threatened aquaculture, aquaria, and marine resources in the main body of Puget Sound. The Event Response funding allowed immediate coordination of sampling and information flow among a network of scientists, managers, and stakeholders (e.g. fish farmers), which was a critical need for management and mitigation of this harmful algal bloom, and for future events. Information gathered during this event will also be used to revise an existing conceptual model of bloom initiation and spread, in support of developing a predictive capability.

Monitoring in Casco Bay, Maine, during Alexandrium HAB Event

Sentinel mussel bags placed on monitoring buoy.  Photo courtesy of Maine DMR
Sentinel mussel bags placed on monitoring buoy. Photo courtesy of Maine DMR

In June 2006, Event Response provided funding to the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to extend their Casco Bay buoy monitoring program, which augmented regular DMR sampling, for five additional weeks. As part of their monitoring program, Maine DMR, in partnership with Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, measured Alexandrium abundance and sampled toxin accumulation in sentinel mussel bags placed at the edges of shellfish resource areas. The Event Response funding allowed the fine-scale sampling to continue through the peak of the 2006 Alexandrium bloom. Overall, the novel monitoring program enabled managers to maintain over 11,000 acres open for soft-shell clam harvest that would have otherwise been closed. Managers used the successful demonstration of the fine-scale monitoring program to convince Maine leaders to allocate a portion of the 2005 HAB Federal Disaster Relief funds for sustainment and expansion of this monitoring effort through 2008 and into other bays. The project may also serve as a pilot for future large-scale inshore monitoring programs. Furthermore, the data will provide a critical link between inshore shellfish toxicity and local and offshore Alexandrium abundance that can be incorporated into models to predict shellfish toxicity.

Monitoring for Alexandrium in Gulf of Maine

CSCOR funding awarded in 2005 as follow-up to the 2005 bloom (see below) supported new maps of Alexandrium cyst seedbeds (which gave a preliminary indication of bloom potential in 2006) and supported research cruises for monitoring Alexandrium abundance and distribution in New England waters in Spring 2006. For more about the 2006 Alexandrium bloom and event response, click here.


Karenia brevis, Low Oxygen, and Benthic Mortalities in Florida

microscopic view of Karenia brevis
A microscopic view of Karenia brevis (photo: FWRI)

In August 2005, Event Response supported the State of Florida in mapping low oxygen and high Karenia brevis abundance to investigate the underlying cause of reported benthic mortalities. Researchers from Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) and the University of South Florida sampled surface and bottom water at 28 stations spanning from the mouth of Tampa Bay north to Pasco County. The cruise results, combined with ancillary data, suggested that a combination of factors associated with the Karenia bloom created an expansive low oxygen region that caused animal mortalities in an area of over 2,100 square miles of hardbottom communities and patch reefs. For more about this event...

Alexandrium fundyense Bloom in Massachusetts Bay and Expanded Efforts in New England

Collection of water samples from research ship. Photo courtesy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Shipboard sampling for Alexandrium fundyense. (Photo: WHOI)

Event Response supported monitoring of the extent and movement of the largest Alexandrium bloom in New England in 30 years. This data helped to provide managers with early warnings of shellfish toxicity to protect public health in the region, and also allowed them to focus toxin sampling on areas where shellfish openings were most likely possible. This effort was critical to the NOAA response effort and led to continuous, high quality bloom predictions and tracking as the bloom expanded. For more about this event...

Harmful Algal Bloom Training in Oregon

Phytoplankton sample collection and identification methods taught by Rita Horner (University of Washington) at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.
Dr. Rita Horner (University of Washington) teaches phytoplankton sample collection and identification methods. (Photo: Northwest Fisheries Science Center)

The highest levels of domoic acid in mussels ever observed in Oregon (more than eight times the safe limit) prompted Oregon health and shellfish managers to initiate an Oregon Harmful Algal Bloom Program based on the successful Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom (ORHAB) Project in Washington. Event Response funding sponsored a workshop in which 12 environmental and human-health officials from Oregon learned new techniques, such as phytoplankton cell counts and rapid toxin tests, which can provide early warnings for potential toxin-related shellfish bed and beach closures. For more about this event...

Reappearance of the Texas Brown Tide in Upper Laguna Madre, Texas

A bucket sample from a Brown Tide in upper Laguna Madre, Texas. (Photo: Camie Hyatt UTMSI)
A bucket sample from a Brown Tide in upper Laguna Madre, Texas. (Photo: Camie Hyatt UTMSI)

Event Response funding allowed researchers from the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) to rapidly sample the extent of Aureoumbra lagunensis (also known as Texas Brown Tide) when it reappeared in Laguna Madre. Past experience with Aureoumbra lagunensis in the Laguna Madre system suggested this bloom could persist for years, threatening its extensive seagrass meadows. UTMSI researchers were able to determine baseline information on physical and chemical parameters and cell concentrations at the onset of the bloom. Findings communicated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD), helped the agency analyze potential risks to popular fisheries dependent upon healthy seagrasses in the highly productive system. For more about this event, see the UTMSI web page.


Great Blue Heron Steatitis in Maryland

Debilitated heron diagnosed with steatitis collected
Debilitated heron diagnosed with steatitis collected from a freshwater pond in MD. (Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

In fall of 2004, an abnormal number of great blue herons were diagnosed with steatitis (also called "yellow fat disease") in Maryland . The sick or dying birds were found in areas where cyanobacterial blooms were ongoing. Event Response provided funding to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to support toxin analysis in tissue and water samples to determine if cyanobacterial toxins contributed to the development of steatitis in the affected great blue herons.

Cyanobacteria in Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River

Accumulation of foam at the boundary of the Microcystis bloom in the Potomac in August 2004.
Accumulation of foam at the boundary of the Microcystis bloom in the Potomac in August, 2004. (Photo: Richard Lacouture Morgan State University Estuarine Research Center)

Event Response supported toxin analysis to allow Maryland Department of Natural Resources to assess toxin variability associated with an extensive, and taxonomically diverse, cyanobacterial bloom in the Potomac River in late summer of 2004. The cyanobacterial toxin, microcystin, was detected in all samples, with levels high enough to pose human health risks in some locations. The results also showed that anatoxin-a was present in some samples, indicating the potential for synergistic toxic effects. This new information was combined with historical data and used to educate the public regarding cyanobacterial blooms and associated health risks through media outlets and web reports.

Bottlenose Dolphin Mortality in Florida

Between March 10 and April 13, 2004, 107 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) stranded dead along the Florida Panhandle; a considerably high number compared to an annual average of eight per year for the Panhandle. CSCOR HAB Event Response contributed to a broad NOAA response, by providing funding to Florida Marine Research Institute to support critical sampling for Karenia brevis cell counts, toxins, and other water quality information offshore and around St. Joseph Bay, where the majority of mortalities were localized. Brevetoxin measured in water and fish suggested that biotoxins were a likely cause of mortality. For more about this event, visit the NOAA Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources web page.


Cyanobacterial Toxicity in Upper San Francisco Bay

Discolored water during the Microcystis bloom. (Photo: CA DWR)
Discolored water during the Microcystis bloom. (Photo: CA DWR)

Event Response supported an assessment of toxicity related to a bloom of the cyanobacteria Microcystis aeruginosa in upper San Francisco Bay. Event Response assisted California Department of Water Resources (CA DWR) by identifying laboratory and analytical services for investigating bloom toxicity and by supplying funds for toxin analysis. The results were used to inform the public, stakeholders, and government resource managers and to guide future management action. This initial assessment of bloom toxicity has prompted further resources in the state to monitor the potential long-term impact of the bloom on human health and ecosystem function. For more about this event, see the Lehman et al. 2005 publication in Hydrobiologia: Distribution and toxicity of a new colonial Microcystis aeruginosa bloom in the San Francisco Bay, California.