Ocean Monitoring of Harmful Algal Blooms

Four long-term sites on the Kodiak road system have been established for continuous monitoring of harmful algal bloom species. Of particular concern is the presence of Alexandrium, a genus of phytoplankton that can produce saxitoxin, the toxin responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).

KANA Environmental Coordinator Stephanie Mason explains why this is an important issue for Kodiak residents: “Many individuals—especially Alaska Native peoples in coastal communities—rely on subsistence resources such as shellfish. As the ocean ecosystems change, the frequency and intensity of harmful algal blooms is increasing.”

Through continuous monitoring of harmful algal blooms and testing of shellfish saxitoxin levels, the project helps address environmental trends that pose a threat to human health and to other mammals utilized as subsistence resources. Project data will help create public advisories for shellfish harvesting at sampled locations. Data will also be uploaded to the Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) database and linked to the Alaska Harmful Algal Bloom Network website where harvesters can view the most recent toxin and phytoplankton data.

“Monitoring paralytic shellfish poisoning and other HABs in Kodiak will assist in adaptation strategies and allow harvesters to make the best management decision about harvesting shellfish. It’s also pretty amazing to see an Alaskan Tribe (Sitka Tribe of Alaska) leading these monitoring efforts that have great potential to expand state-wide.”

Stephanie Mason
Environmental Coordinator, KANA

The program—funded through the BIA Tribal Resilience Program—will provide valuable information island-wide. Long-term monitoring and data sharing will advance Tribal resilience, increase Tribal economic security, improve coastal knowledge of harmful algal toxins, and enable road-system Tribal members to make informed harvesting decisions based on PSP testing results. Additionally, KANA, Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL), and Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak will start compiling environmental datasets to statistically examine toxicity levels and adapt to the trends of harmful blooms and toxic shellfish.

Shellfish toxicity levels will be public data and made accessible through seator.org or by contacting KANA Environmental Technician Andie Wall at andie.wall@kodiakhealthcare.org.

Jamie Hubbard using a water sampling instrument to gather temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pH levels in Larsen Bay.

Fred and Lincoln Shanagin collecting ocean water for ocean acidification samples off the ferry dock in Ouzinkie.