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Community Outreach on Harmful Algal Bloom Risk in the Bering Strait Region

Published on: 06/08/2023

Emma Pate, Environmental Coordinator for the Norton Sound Health Corporation (center), provides information and answers questions about harmful algae at a 2022 HAB event at the Native Village of Savoonga Tribal Office on Saint Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait region. (Credit: G. Sheffield, UAF Alaska Sea Grant)

NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science (NCCOS) Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Event Response program awarded $15,000 to Alaska Sea Grant and the Norton Sound Health Corporation. Throughout coastal communities of western and northern Alaska, the comprehensive ecosystem-wide use of the marine environment is essential to both food security and the nutritional, cultural, and economic well-being of regional residents. However, Alaska’s vast coastline prevents comprehensive HAB monitoring. This award supports proactive communication efforts to inform Bering Strait communities of subsistence food safety risks related to HABs.

During the summer of 2022, researchers at sea documented a massive offshore bloom of Alexandrium catenella in the Northern Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and southern Chukchi Sea (Kotzebue Sound region) of western and northern Alaska using a shipboard Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB). A bloom of this magnitude is unprecedented in this region and the nation. The IFCB detected A. catenella cell concentrations well above levels known to cause dangerous shellfish toxicity in southeastern Alaska and in other regions globally. Risk advisories were sent to health authorities and the regional communication hubs of Nome and Kotzebue to alert coastal communities to the novel human health, wildlife health, and food security risks related to a HAB event of this scale. This summer, researchers will again use an IFCB to detect the offshore presence of toxic algal species in real-time to provide risk advisories to at-risk coastal communities.

Funding from this award will support radio and print communications about HAB risks and alert regional communities in the case of a HAB event. A series of in-person, community education forums throughout the Bering Strait region will ensure concerned individuals and families are equipped to make informed food safety decisions. This proactive outreach to remote Bering Strait communities will bolster regional HAB response efforts by preparing at-risk communities for a HAB event during summer 2023.

The NCCOS HAB Event Response Program provides immediate support to help state, tribal, and local officials manage events and advance the understanding of HABs as they occur.

For more information about the NCCOS HAB Event Response Program, contact sarah.pease@noaa.gov.

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