ECOHAB (Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms) is a research program funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Ocean Program, designed to increase the understanding of the fundamental processes underlying the causes and impacts of harmful algal blooms (HABs). Such understanding is required in order to develop appropriate HAB management and response strategies. As ciguatera is the largest harmful algae problem in the world, the funding of this project by ECOHAB is timely.
CiguaHAB strongly addresses the first major goal of ECOHAB, “to develop quantitative understanding of HABs and, where applicable, their toxins in relation to the surrounding environment with the intent of developing new information and tools, predictive models and forecasts, and prevention strategies to aid managers in coastal environments”. We will develop quantitative understanding of Gambierdiscus strains and their toxins through our laboratory and field studies. This physiological and toxicological data, coupled with the genetic analyses, will advance our knowledge of critical processes involved in CFP. This knowledge, in turn, will be applied in a numerical model of the population dynamics and toxin production of Gambierdiscus under different environmental forcings, as well as an outreach program that will increase the education and awareness of CFP in the region.
These efforts will provide means to reduce exposure to ciguatera, through forecasting efforts and the outreach campaign. This project also meets the second major goal of ECOHAB “to develop understanding leading to models of trophic transfer of toxins, knowledge of biosynthesis and metabolism of toxins, and assessment of impacts of toxins on higher trophic levels”. Our studies will provide comprehensive, regional data on toxicity in Gambierdiscus isolates and fish from the GCR. A comparison of the toxins found in Gambierdiscus cells and in fishes will highlight common congeners and identify likely pathways of biotransformation in the food web. An understanding of these pathways is essential to evaluating the potential human and ecosystem-based impacts of these toxins.