General news

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16 December 2020

New technology for real time harmful algae bloom monitoring key to early detection and management

New Zealand Seafood Safety researchers are ready to take the next step in harmful algae bloom (HAB) monitoring through the use of exciting new technology, and are looking to seafood growers and other key seafood safety stakeholders to back this approach.

Harmful algal blooms have a huge impact on seafood supply chains, revenue generation and employment. The costly incursion of A. pacificum in 2018 and 2019 into Pelorus Sound, a premiere shellfish aquaculture area, resulted in 250 mussel farms closing to harvesting for up to three months. This affected employment in the area, and supply to both the domestic and international markets. Early detection of blooms and the benefits of increased sampling can help Identify the problem quickly and potentially mitigate adverse impacts to industry.

Despite weekly sampling carried out by most shellfish farmers, toxic phytoplankton blooms can proliferate or spread between sampling points in a matter of hours or days. For industry to rapidly respond to future HABs in real time, more frequent sampling is needed.

New Zealand Seafood Safety platform researchers, led by Cawthron Institute’s Dr. Lincoln Mackenzie, have been investigating a novel monitoring system for New Zealand’s marine environment. The Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB) has been trialled in New Zealand for the first time, and combines the fluorescence detection capabilities of a flow cytometer with imaging and species identification capabilities.

The IFCB can be trained using high powered computing systems to identify individual species. It acts as an underwater microscope, taking high-resolution pictures when it senses an organism—in real time. The IFCB was tested in the field and in the laboratory and showed promising results. The real time monitoring shows growers where the bloom is advancing or retreating, and how this impacts their shellfish.

The next step is for the New Zealand Seafood Safety platform, led by Cawthron Institute, to establish a working group of scientists, industry stakeholders and New Zealand government agencies to develop a business case for investing in this technology, which has the potential to make a big difference when HABs occur.

Dr Tim Harwood and Dr Kirsty Smith, the Seafood Safety Platform leaders, will be reaching out to interested parties in early 2021. If you would like to be included in these discussions, please feel free to contact Tim or Kirsty directly.