Alaska to Use NCCOS Designed Phytoplankton Monitoring for Proactive Response to Red Tide Events
Twenty-one cases of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) were confirmed during a spring 2011 red tide event along the coast of Alaska. The number of cases could have easily been much higher. Shellfish farmers and harvesters volunteering as phytoplankton monitors identified the harmful algal species Alexandrium during their bi-weekly plankton net tow and sample analysis. Their quick and accurate identification, and public outreach prevented a much larger outbreak.
The NCCOS Phytoplankton Monitoring Network partners with the University of Alaska and University of Alaska Southeast to expand phytoplankton monitoring over a wider area and have it serve as an early warning sign for potential toxic events. This enables the shellfish testers from Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation to respond quickly with biotoxin tests. The existing Southeast Alaska Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring Partnership will be expanded through teacher workshops and increasing partnerships with shellfish growers this April in Kodiak, Homer and Juneau.
Alexandrium is found worldwide and makes a toxin that causes PSP. PSP is a potentially fatal poisoning that starts with numbness or tingling of the lips, but can stop breathing by paralyzing the diaphragm. It’s the most widespread harmful algal bloom in the United States, closing harvesting of shellfish and posing a danger to coastal residents from Maine to Massachusetts and on the west coast from California to Alaska.