November 3, 2011
Scientists at the University of Maine have been awarded $201,187 for the first year of an anticipated three-year $574,028 project to investigate methods that would provide early warning detection of toxic Alexandrium blooms, also known as red tides, in the Gulf of Maine.
Some species of Alexandrium algae produce a toxin that can become concentrated in shellfish tissue. Eating shellfish tainted with this toxin can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), a potentially fatal human illness. This project will allow scientists to detect and measure levels of toxic Alexandrium cells in water samples, providing Maine officials with an early warning of increased potential of PSP contamination in shellfish. The project could pave the way to similar projects in other regions affect by harmful algal blooms.
According to Dr. Laurie Connell of the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences and project lead, “The ability to directly detect toxic Alexandrium species using the inexpensive monitoring devices we have developed will increase Maine’s ability to focus limited resources to areas that are either emerging ‘PSP hot spots’ or to safely allow for targeted closures of shellfish harvests focusing only on impacted beds. Our project will serve as a demonstration model for other state and local agencies for the implementation of these detection platforms.”
Darcie Couture, director of biotoxin monitoring at the Maine Department of Marine Resources said, “I am excited to partner on this effort as it has great potential to deliver to our program new, effective technology for monitoring HABs in the field, while keeping operating costs within a workable range for a state program.”
“These resources will enable the University’s world-class scientists and students, in collaboration with the critically important Biotoxin Monitoring program at Maine's Department of Marine Resources, to explore cost-effective ways to properly detect the spread of red tide in the Gulf of Maine,” said Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. “The technological advances made by research like this, along with continued funding for shellfish monitoring programs, will ensure that our state’s hardworking harvesters have all the tools at their disposal to ensure the continued success of this vital fishery. While we have made great strides in bloom prediction and monitoring, it is clear these problems are continuing to increase in magnitude and demand our ongoing commitment and attention.”
This project was funded to the University of Maine through a national competition of the Monitoring and Event Response of Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) program run by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. Research will be carried out at the University of Maine with research partners at the Maine Department of Marine Resources Biotoxin Monitoring Program. These monitoring advancements will improve capabilities and cut costs for the red tide forecast system (October 19 announcement), a NOAA investment in New England to protect public health and jobs, and coastal economies.
The MERHAB program was first authorized by the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) of 1998. HABHRCA was last reauthorized in 2004. HABHRCA calls for advancement in the scientific understanding and the ability to detect, monitor, assess, and predict harmful algal bloom and hypoxia events.
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