Harmful Algal Blooms, or HABS, produce toxins that have a potentially devastating, wide range of effects that are a threat to marine and freshwater ecosystems.



Last month, Palau International Reef Center (PICRC) Research & Aquarium Director, Geraldine Rengiil attended a workshop with the International Atomic Energy Agency on approaches to reduce the adverse impacts of harmful algal toxins on seafood safety.  The HAB Programme of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission UNESCO has been developed to further management and research, better understand causes of HAB, predict occurrences, and diminish their effects.


Palau will be one of the study sites for HABs.  Palau’s coastal communities and economic interests depend on fishery and aquatic resources that can be adversely affected by HABs. It is beneficial to have management and mitigation strategies developed to reduce the severity of HAB impacts, with an emphasis on minimizing the risk of human exposure. Key among the management tools employed to protect public health are monitoring programs aimed at detecting HAB toxins as they occur in both the algae that produce them and the fishery resources contaminated by these toxins.   While HABs is not a current issue in Palau, it does pose a potential threat for the future.


HABs include an abundance of algal species that can cause harm to humans, wildlife, and ecosystems and have continued to increase in frequency, duration, and distribution over the past several decades. These microalgae are abundant in coastal marine ecosystems worldwide and although toxigenic species represent only a small percent of the total number, new toxin producing species continue to be discovered. A widely believed explanation for this trend is anthropogenic factors such as; nutrient enrichment, ballast water introductions, enhanced aquaculture activities, and, more recently, global climate change/variability.


In Palau, there have been suspected cases of ciguatera poisoning, an illness that arises from eating contaminated reef fish, as well as occurrences of fish kills.  PICRC will collaborate with agencies such as Division of Environmental Health and Environmental Quality Protection Board to conduct and establish baselines on existence of HAB toxins and monitor exposure to contaminated seafood in Palau. This information would benefit consumers of marine resources and enable them to make informed decision on where they fish within their marine environment. Additionally, this information would benefit food and water regulatory agencies, policy makers, and the food and tourism industry in Palau. [/restrict]