Workshop Expands Greater Proactive Response to HAB Events in Alaska
Historically, Kodiak Island has not routinely monitored for HABs but has the greatest number of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) cases in the United States. PSP is caused by the algae Alexandrium and is potentially fatal to humans. The NCCOS Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) partnered with the Kodiak Island Borough School District, Kodiak Island remote community leaders, the SouthWest Alaska Municipal Conference, and Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program to expand the network to Kodiak Island. The workshop instructed PMN volunteers on phytoplankton monitoring and identification techniques. Data provided by these volunteers on Alexandrium cell abundance allows early warning for the shellfish testing program at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to respond quickly with biotoxin testing, substantially reducing response time and potentially saving lives.
PSP poisoning is caused by eating contaminated shellfish and starts with numbness or tingling of the lips and can stop breathing by paralyzing the diaphragm. Shellfish farms and dive fisheries in Alaska undergo robust biotoxin testing by DEC. However, the large recreational and subsistence harvesting of shellfish is not tested for biotoxins while being the source of most PSP cases in Alaska. In 2011 Southeast Alaska identified 21 cases of PSP and through April 2012 Juneau reported 3 suspected cases of PSP. Kodiak Island currently does not have a shellfish aquaculture industry because of the historically high levels of PSP in local shellfish.