NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and partners will conduct the first field test of an underwater robot using an NCCOS-developed toxin sensor that will enable remote, automated measurements of paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs) produced by the dinoflagellate Alexandrium that causes toxic red tides in the Gulf of Maine (GOM). The robot, called the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), is being deployed next week by NCCOS partner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and will provide near-real time data on both Alexandrium and PST concentrations off the coast of Portsmouth, NH.
Since bloom toxicity can fluctuate substantially and, in turn, influence toxin levels in shellfish, the addition of a PST sensor to ESP deployments represents a significant step towards assessing the potential of a bloom to cause shellfish toxicity. This year's toxin information will be included to the regular updates for scientists, coastal managers, and public health officials in the region to support decisions on shellfish harvesting closures.
NCCOS in-house research that adds toxin detection to the ESP's capabilities complements external NOAA's externally-funded partner efforts overseen by an NCCOS Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Bloom (MERHAB) pilot, which supports deployments of ESPs with integrated PST sensors and design of an optimum ESP deployment array as part of the Northeast Regional Association of Coastal & Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS).
An NCCOS Prevention Control and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms (PCMHAB) project is transitioning predictive models into the NOAA HAB Operational Forecast System. ESP data, including PST levels, and will improve the accuracy of future HAB forecasts. These NCCOS HAB research investments are leading to enhanced NOAA observing and forecasting capabilities that will benefit the Gulf of Maine.