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Emerging Algal Toxins in the California Current System: Responding to Known Threats, Preparing for the Future

This project began in September 2019 and is projected to be completed in August 2024

Surveys in California have highlighted the occurrence of HAB toxins in estuarine waters and shellfish, but there is concern that current monitoring approaches under-report the threats. There is a need to measure a variety of toxins in the field and to make these methods widely available at reasonable cost. The project will evaluate the ability of the passive resin-based sampling method, solid phase adsorption toxin tracking (SPATT), to simultaneously measure multiple toxins in coastal environments, specifically the California Current System.

Why We Care
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have emerged as an increasing threat to both wildlife and humans in California coastal waters causing frequent and widespread marine animal die offs and illnesses and societal harm due to commercial and recreational fishery closures and potential health risks to artisanal seafood harvesters.

Methods of managing HAB impacts have to date largely focused on two common toxigenic species Pseudo-nitzschia and Alexandrium. However, a growing body of evidence has documented the co-occurrence of multiple toxins in estuarine waters and shellfish tissues from other marine and freshwater HAB taxa including Dinophysis, Akashiwo, and Microcystis. There is a critical need for more holistic approaches to HAB management in the California Current ecosystem.

Previous projects have demonstrated the potential for Solid Phase Adsorption Toxin Tracking (SPATT) to capture the episodic nature of HAB events and their spatial and temporal variability. California and Washington have begun to adopt SPATT into existing single toxin-focused HAB monitoring programs but efforts are still needed to modify SPATT more effectively capture the broader suite HAB toxins now recognized as a threat and to overcome difficulties in standardizing SPATT toxin values allowing for better comparison with more traditional “grab sampling” monitoring approaches.

What Are We Doing
The project will increase the capacity to respond to HAB events, manage impacts and implement a new toxin detection tool to provide insight into HAB toxin dynamics in California and Washington States. The team will work to communicate results in a variety of forums to facilitate adoption nationally in both coastal and inland (non-coastal) state HAB programs.

The project will demonstrate how SPATT can be incorporated into existing HAB programs in California and Washington as a time-integrated, cost effective approach to HAB toxin monitoring while expanding the suite of toxins that can be evaluated in the coastal ocean. The ecological drivers of multitoxin production in the coastal ocean will also be identified to improve understanding and prediction of the occurrence of toxins in the ecosystem.

The project team will modify the component technologies, resin types and membranes, to enhance the ability of analyzing the presence of several different toxins on each SPATT sampler. Data from multi-year SPATT times-series in Monterey Bay, San Francisco Bay, CA, and Bellingham Bay, WA combined with new data will be used in statistical models to identify environmental drivers of toxicity and trophic transfer. The outcomes include:

    • Characterization of multiple toxins, providing quantifiable results comparable to grab samples
    • Development of a 10+ year time-series for Monterey Bay, San Francisco Bay, and Bellingham Bay, leading to multivariate statistical analysis of environmental drivers
    • Addition of SPATT to existing databases, and two community workshops to facilitate uptake and standardization of SPATT within existing monitoring programs.

Dr. Raphael Kudela (University of California- Santa Cruz) leads this project. Co-investigators are Dr. Melissa Peacock (Salish Sea Research Center, Northwest Indian College), Dr. Meredith Howard (Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board), Dr. Clarissa Anderson (SCCOOS), Dr. Henry Ruhl (CeNCOOS), and Mr. Ben Starkhouse (Lummi Nation). The project is funded through the NCCOS Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Program.

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