Monitoring Oregon’s Coastal Harmful Algae (MOCHA):
A logistical approach to HAB event response.
Z. Forster1, M. Hunter1, P.G. Strutton2, J.F. Tweddle2, A.M. Wood3, B. Peterson4, L. O’Higgins4
1Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2001 Marine Drive, Astoria, OR 97103, USA.
2College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 COAS Admin Bldg, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
3Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.
4 NOAA Fisheries, Newport Research Station, 2115 SE Marine Science Dr, Newport, OR 97365, USA.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has routinely monitored nearshore waters along the Oregon coast for the presence of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) since 2005. Closures of shellfish harvest
areas due to contamination by phycotoxins are frequent, and have a considerable economic impact on coastal communities. In 2003, ODFW estimated that the closure of the razor clam fishery at Clatsop beach
alone cost the local communities $4.8 million. In order to mitigate such losses to coastal communities the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful
Algal Blooms (MERHAB) awarded funding in 2007 to implement an integrated HAB monitoring and event response program for coastal Oregon. This new collaboration was dubbed MOCHA (Monitoring of
Oregon’s Coastal Harmful Algae) and partners included Oregon State University (OSU), University of Oregon (UO), NOAA Newport Research Station and ODFW. ODFW was able to expand its nearshore sampling
program and bridge a key data gap between Washington's Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom (ORHAB) monitoring program and California. This new partnership will play a vital role in fulfilling goals set forth by
the West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health and Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Monitoring.
Program Expansion Case Study
As part of the MOCHA project, ODFW hired a phytoplankton sampling coordinator as well as a In April of 2009, while conducting routine phytoplankton cell counts from shore-side surf zone
seasonal sampling position in 2008. The sampling coordinator works collaboratively with current samples, ODFW staff noted elevated levels of the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia (P-n) along the
Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) agents as well as ODFW shellfish staff to collect and Clatsop beaches. A time sequence of events follows:
ship whole water and filtered water samples to the Astoria, Oregon laboratory. The coordinator • April 25, Pseudo-nitzschia cell counts reach 90,000 cells/L along the Clatsop beaches.
also collaborates with NOAA and UO to ensure consistency in sample treatment and Notification was immediately sent out with information that included: cell counts, a coastal map of
enumeration. The seasonal sampler assures consistent sampling from the south Oregon coast hot spots and bio-physical observations.
region as well as working with ODA, the regulatory body responsible for tissue toxin testing, to • April 26, NOAA Pacific Northwest Fisheries Science Center (PNWFSC) requests samples for
collect mussels and clams for toxin testing. scanning electron microscopy (SEM) species identification. SEM species identification results
indicated the presence of multiple species of P-n including P. Australlis which is known to 2009 Oregon Coast Pseudo-Nitzschia Abundance
With increased staffing, and collaboration with MOCHA partners as well as with ODA, ODFW produce DA.
Clatsop Beach Lane County Linclon County Gold Beach Coos County
• April 27, Tissue toxin results released from ODA indicated an elevated level of DA in razor
was able to increase the number of nearshore sample sites from five to eleven and increase 900,000
sample frequency to a weekly basis. This enhancement of more than doubling the number of clams. Washington’s ORHAB program also reports “action levels” of P-n cells.
sites sampled and halving the time period between sampling decreases the likelihood of missing • April 29, Northwest winds, an indicator of favorable upwelling conditions, alluded to the threat of
a bloom. ODFW uses a list serve to distribute data and as an alert to any potential HABs. Since a bloom, chains of 3-10 cells were common and cells appeared very healthy. The highest cell
2008, the listserve has been greatly expanded to include many more people from Federal and counts are now in Seaside (62,000 cells/liter). 200,000
State agencies, private business, and resource users. • May 6, P-n cell counts remained high although environmental drivers including south winds and
warming nearshore temperatures seemed to favor down-welling conditions. P-n chains became
ODFW has also been standardizing a sequence of response steps triggered when a HAB less common and the bloom seems to show signs of increased stress.
reaches “action levels” in the shore-side phytoplankton monitoring. Steps include; increased • May 8, ODFW staff collects and field tests a small sample of razor clams from the Seaside area
nearshore water analysis, the use of domoic acid (DA) field testing kits, increased tissue using a Mercury Science trial DA SPOT pad detection kit. Test results from tissue collected from
laboratory testing and increased alert notifications. the tip of the neck, gills and foot indicate an increase in DA levels. ODFW staff consults Mercury
Science to confirm results, a range of 4-14 ppm is agreed upon.
ODFW has also participated in outreach and education opportunities including; mentoring for • May 11, Routine ODA tissue toxin testing indicates 1.5 ppm and 1.9 ppm DA in two razor clam
local high school and junior college students and leading field expeditions including a cruise at samples collected from Clatsop beach.
the PNW Biology Professors Conference. The partnership between ODFW and MOCHA has • May 15, P-n cell counts (68,000 cells/L) comprised mainly of larger cells.
also provided education and information opportunities for staff through face to face talks with • May 18, ODFW collects clams for field SPOT pad testing. Field test results again indicate
constituents both whether in the harvest area or at the lab. elevated levels of DA in razor clams. The information is immediately disseminated to ODA via cell
phone and another sample is sent in for non-routine HPLC analysis on razor clams for DA .
• May 21, ODA releases results of 1.6 ppm a small decrease from the previous week. The fishery
remains open and standard monitoring continues.
2009 Oregon Coast Pseudo-nitzschia Abundance
Clatsop Beach Lane County Linclon County Gold Beach Coos County
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct
The expansion of ODFW’s nearshore sampling program has provided valuable early detection and event response information to the MOCHA collaborators. Clatsop Beaches
Previously an increase in DA in shellfish might have gone undetected for up to two weeks and although in the above example DA in razor clams never reached Cannon Beach
regulatory closure levels, the early detection system worked. Managers were able to disseminate the information and order more testing to assure that the
harvested shellfish were safe for human consumption. As the MOCHA project continues to work to understand the dynamics and impacts of HABs along the
Oregon coast, case studies such as the one above provide great insight into future HAB event response and mitigation.
With increasing interest and demand for Oregon’s shellfish, resources managers are under increased pressure to mitigate any negative human health and
socioeconomic impacts caused by HABs. Future proposed steps include creation of a central data distribution center for dissemination of cell count data and
alert information, further calibration of field tests to be comparable with ODA test requirements and further collaboration with the west coast HAB community.
Spot pad test results.
Razor clamming on Clatsop Beach. Pseudo-nitzschia Photo Credit: Brian Bill, NOAA’s PNWFCS Performing DA SPOT pad test.
Acknowledgments Gold Beach
Tom Stewart, Mercury Science (www.mercuryscience.com), for providing the DA SPOT pad tests used in the case study. Brian Bill, NOAA’s PNWFSC, for his SEM identification of Pseudo-nitzschia
cells. ODA for their continued sampling effort and partnership with ODFW. Marc Suddleson, NOAA-CSCOR, for his continued assistance and encouragement of the MOCHA project.