Research aims to mitigate risks of harmful algal blooms in the South West

Rope grown mussels
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory have been working together to identify what causes the formation of harmful algal blooms (HABs), and importantly, where they are likely to form around South West peninsula. This project ‘Assessing and Mitigating risks of Harmful Algal Blooms (AMHABs)’, has been funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

HABs can result in the production of harmful algal biotoxins and oxygen depletion, therefore presenting a significant risk to shellfish and finfish health. According to the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP), HAB occurrences are anticipated to increase with climate change and the influx of warmer water planktonic algae, including more toxic species, to UK coastal waters, MCCIP Report Card 2013. The impacts of these HABs are likely to include prolonged closures of shellfish farms and increased mortality of juvenile fish on nursery grounds, and these are major future concerns for UK inshore wild fisheries and seafood farming (aquaculture).

‘Real-time’ monitoring via in situ sampling and ‘remote’ satellite sensing can readily detect high biomass and surface forming algal blooms, but these strategies provide limited forewarning and are not appropriate for detecting the onset of low biomass blooms (eg Dinophysis sp.) or blooms that initiate below the sea surface (eg Karenia mikimotoi). Another option is to use environmental data to predict where, when and how often such blooms are likely to occur. This information could then be used to inform mitigation strategies; allowing businesses to better plan the timing of shellfish harvesting, when and where not to feed finfish stock and furthermore, guide in the placement of new farms (i.e. locating new farms in areas that have a low risk of HABs forming).

Dr Ross Brown, Senior Research Fellow on the project has produced a video explaining more about the research and importance of the project. Dr Brown will join SWEEP in Spring 2019 as an Impact Fellow on a new project looking at water quality and aquaculture.

Recent research undertaken in St Austell Bay by Drs Jamie Shutler and Wiebke Schmidt, at the University of Exeter, and Dr Peter Miller and colleagues from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), has shown that the formation of HABs and the concentration of biotoxins in shellfish is associated with changes in environmental conditions, including sea surface temperature, solar radiation, rainfall and wind speed. Incorporating these factors in a site-specific predictive model enables one-week forecasts of biotoxin accumulation within the farmed shellfish. This work has been carried out as part of the UK Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBRSC) and UK National Environmental Research Council (NERC) funded ShellEye project.

“Research studies such as AMHABs and ShellEye are key to informing and underpinning the sustainable development and management of marine ecosystem services, including capture fisheries and aquaculture (mariculture).” Said Dr Grant Stentiford, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and Co-Director of Sustainable Aquaculture Futures (Cefas and University of Exeter partnership).

The findings of these research projects will help to inform decisions regarding Marine Spatial Planning in UK coastal waters and aid the development of strategies concerning adaptation to changing climatic and environmental conditions.

Article first appeared on the Exeter Marine blog pages.

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