Home > Explore Projects > Early Warning for Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning in the Gulf of Maine through Real Time in situ Characterization of Upstream Phytoplankton Blooms
NCCOS Project

Early Warning for Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning in the Gulf of Maine through Real Time in situ Characterization of Upstream Phytoplankton Blooms

This project began in September 2023 and is projected to be completed in August 2028.

This project will help mitigate HAB-related disruptions to highly productive Gulf of Maine shellfisheries with new knowledge, observing technology advances, and enhanced capacity to deliver early warnings and forecasts of blooms of toxin producing Pseudo-nitzschia algal species and related increases in neurotoxin domoic acid levels in shellfish.

Why We Care
Highly productive shellfisheries in the Northeast US are facing a new type of harmful algal bloom (HAB) that causes Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). ASP occurs when people and animals eat seafood that is contaminated with domoic acid, a marine biotoxin toxin that is produced by Pseudo-nitzschia (PN) diatoms, a type of microalgae. Severe ASP cases can result in permanent short-term memory loss. This HAB concern first emerged as a management concern in the Gulf of Maine region in 2012. State shellfish agencies in the region have adopted monitoring protocols that maintain seafood safety but lack advanced warning of blooms. Reducing uncertainty about the onset and extent of blooms can limit the need for costly precautionary harvest closures, product recalls, economic losses and other negative impacts on shellfishers and businesses who depend on an ability to safely harvest and sell valuable seafood.

What We Are Doing

This project substantially leverages ongoing development of a HAB observing system in New England called HABON-NE. This is a cooperative effort that aims to deploy advanced HAB sensors at strategic locations along the coast for improved bloom surveillance and monitoring. The workhorse of this sensor network is a plankton imaging sensor called Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB). The research team uses AI-based methods to detect HAB species in its images in real time. Results are shared as they are created via an interactive web portal called HABhub. Current and pending projects are extending this network offshore through deployments of IFCBs aboard Uncrewed Surface Vehicles. This project builds on these efforts to address the following foci:

  1. Expand and update the observing footprint of HABON-NE so that it provides greater early warning to resource managers and stakeholders concerned with ASP;
  2. Establish operational USV-based IFCB deployments for detection of potentially toxic Pseudo-nitzschia offshore; and
  3. Update HAB hub for integration of HABON-NE data with NCCOS satellite remote sensing and bloom forecast products.

The research team will identify the underlying drivers of ASP emergence on the Maine coast by detecting and tracking toxic PN blooms from where they first develop in offshore waters of Atlantic Canada. Mobile USV-based IFCBs will telemeter data to shore by satellite so that their observations are publicly accessible in real-time and alongside satellite and numerical model products to track bloom movements throughout the Gulf of Maine. Detection of significant PN blooms entering the Gulf of Maine will trigger ship-based surveys to determine bloom toxicity.

The project will also expand co-deployments of IFCB and Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) sensors at stations along the Maine coast, extending HABON-NE to where PN blooms typically first impact the U.S. coast in Downeast Maine. These shore stations will track the evolution and toxicity of PN blooms as they are transported along the Maine coast west into New Hampshire and Massachusetts waters. All sources of HAB monitoring information will be made available in real-time through HABhub, which is being developed as open source software so that it can be adapted for use in other US regions.

Benefits of this Work 
This project will develop increased testing capacity for better mitigation of impacts from toxin-producing Pseudo-nitzschia blooms on human health and economic security for Gulf of Maine shellfisheries managers and seafood industry partners. This project will begin tracking blooms as they initiate in Canadian waters, develop enhanced understanding of factors controlling the blooms as they move toward coastal Maine and neighboring states. This aim is to provide up to six weeks advance warning of the onset of shellfish impacts from domoic acid, providing states and the region's shellfish industry more time to mitigate risks and minimize economic and social disruptions. The data from this effort will advance the co-PIs efforts to demonstrate a HABON-NE and expand an existing NOAA operational forecast efforts in the region to address regional stakeholder concerns. This project advances ongoing efforts sponsored jointly by NOAA NCCOS and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System that are demonstrating regional operational HAB observing and forecasting capabilities to advance a National HAB Observing Network (NHABON) and a national HAB Forecasting capability.

This project is led by Michael Brosnahan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)

Co-Principal Investigators include Dennis J. McGillicuddy Jr., (WHOI); Kate Hubbard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Gregory Doucette, Tina Mikulski, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Steve Archer, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Jake Kritzer, Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS).

Unfunded collaborators include Richard Stumpf and Yizhen Li (NCCOS).

This project is supported by the NCCOS Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Research Program.

Additional Resources

Click to expand resource list(s).

Explore Similar Projects
No posts found.


NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our quarterly newsletter or view our archives.

NCCOS Multimedia

Visit our new NCCOS Multimedia Gallery. 

Follow us on Social

Listen to our Podcast

Check out our new podcast "Coastal Conversations"