Harmful Algal Bloom Alerts are Saving Lives of Shellfish Consumers

The shellfish industry depends on harmful algal bloom alerts from Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Lynker’s staff writer at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management shares the details:

Kachemak Bay Reserve Alerts Thousands to Poisoned Shellfish Dangers

Communicating harmful conditions helps keep shellfish consumers safe.

A harmful algal bloom alert for Alaska’s Kachemak Bay is saving the lives of recreational and subsistence shellfish consumers—thanks to NOAA’s Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which monitors 12 sites for toxic phytoplankton and publishes weekly reports for communities and the state’s shellfish-poisoning communication team. The reports also include mussel toxin-level data from other labs.

In 2015 Kachemak Bay experienced its first harmful algal bloom event in 10 years. As ocean temperatures rise, blooms are expected to occur more frequently. Consumers of bloom-affected shellfish can experience paralytic shellfish poisoning symptoms that include tingling, light-headedness, numbness, and even death. The Kachemak Bay Reserve’s Coastal Training Program brought community partners together to determine how to improve local monitoring and response efforts. Today both goals are being realized.

Recently the reserve’s monitoring program provided a warning about toxic shellfish in Homer Harbor a full week before oyster farms had reached their toxin limit (commercial shellfish in Alaska are monitored and inspected). And the partnership networking component is working, too. A Facebook posting about this event was shared 253 times, reaching 18,373 people in rural Alaska. Unfortunately, six reports of illness potentially tied to this type of poisoning were found, but the impact could have been much worse had it not been for this monitoring and notification effort.

Lives are at stake. Subsistence shellfish harvesting serves a vital nutritional and cultural role for many indigenous Alaskans, especially those in rural areas. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, rural subsistence users harvest more than 36 million pounds of wild foods annually.

The Kachemak Bay Reserve is supported by NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management through the National Estuarine Research Reserve Program. Their Harmful Species Program receives assistance through three NOAA labs: the Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research and Center for Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, both part of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science; and the Undersea Research Program, part of the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. (2017)

Partners: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, National Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, NOAA Center for Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, NOAA Undersea Research Program, Seldovia Village Tribe, Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins

Photo credit: Alaska Center for Conservation Science