As lead partners in a three year Interreg funded project Predicting the Impact of Regional Scale events on the Aquaculture Sector (PRIMROSE), the Marine Institute has developed a web portal which helps predict the risk and impact of harmful algal bloom events (HABS), providing an important tool for Europe's aquaculture industry.
A project meeting recently hosted by the Marine Institute was attended by the 10 partners from Ireland, United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain. The project is due to be completed in July 2021 and has successfully delivered considerable developments in the area of bloom forecasting.
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) occur when certain species of microscopic algae grow in response to favourable environmental conditions and result in a variety of harmful impacts. Some can produce biotoxins that can be passed on via filter feeding shellfish, making them unfit for human consumption. Commercial shellfish production is tested year round to ensure their quality before harvesting, but these blooms can occasionally cause substantial damage to the aquaculture industry through prolonged site closures and loss of produce.
While scientists are aware of the many factors that contribute to HABs, how these factors come together to create a "bloom" of algae is not well understood. HABs occur naturally, but human activities that disturb ecosystems seem to play a role in their more frequent occurrence and intensity. Increased nutrient loadings and pollution, food web alterations, introduced species, water flow modifications and climate change all play a role.
The web portal developed as part of the PRIMROSE project, provides early warning for HABS events along the Atlantic coast. The forecast system provides shellfish producers and official authorities with advance warning that allow them to take rapid mitigating measures to affected shellfish beds and, if necessary, post warnings in coastal areas where there is a direct health risk.
"We cannot prevent Harmful Algal Blooms, but we can be better prepared," said Joe Silke, Director of Marine Environment and Food Safety Services at the Marine Institute. "Having the ability to forecast when such events might happen is a very valuable tool for the shellfish industry, helping to safeguard the product and minimise farming mortalities."
The aquaculture sector in Europe produced and sold 1.4 million tonnes of seafood with a value of nearly €5 billion in 2018. The economic impact of HABs has been estimated at €919 million per year in the EU. The new PRIMROSE web portal will add value to monitoring programmes already in place by re-using valuable data that is already being generated to develop regional HABs forecasts and predictions.
The Marine Institute works closely with authorities and the shellfish industry to monitor shellfish production areas to ensure that Irish shellfish are produced to the highest standards. The Marine Institute also issues weekly HABs Bulletins with information on the potential development of toxic and harmful phytoplankton. Part of the PRIMROSE project has involved gathering feedback on shellfish industry requirements, to improve these weekly HABs bulletin.
The Interreg funded project PRIMROSE includes a consortium of 10 partners from five countries across the European Atlantic area with expertise in areas such as marine ecosystems, aquaculture husbandry, geographic information systems, commercial farming, environmental monitoring, modelling, oceanography, dissemination risk assessment and training.