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Scotland and, as a business, is estimated to be worth nearly £350 million a year.

Monitoring capabilities

Limited scientific understanding of HABs is also hindering the development of effective monitoring and forecasting capabilities, to better prepare society for future HAB scenar- ios. Currently, monitoring of water quality surrounding shellfisheries in UK and European waters usually involves a series of direct samples and measurements by government agencies, which can be expensive. In reality, this is a lengthy process that can hinder proactive action by shellfish farmers, such as when and what to harvest to protect stock. In-situ equipment is being developed and

deployed to enhance monitoring capabilities, but this could be equated to sampling an area the size of a pinhead on a football pitch. Consequently, scientists are looking to space and satellite technology for further help. The successes seen in other related

industries using satellite observations, to help monitor local water quality and identify HABs

This year saw the largest-ever bloom

recorded in California fuelled by warm water in the Pacific that was almost 40 miles long and 650 feet deep

(GEOHAB) and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) held an interna- tional workshop to discuss future effects of HABs – the findings of which were recently published in the journal Harmful Algae. The paper states that despite a general understand- ing that the frequency and severity of HABs will increase due to climate change and increasing nutrients from human activities, there is a lack of scientific knowledge that limits a clear comprehension of their global impact. The American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has estimated that annually, HABs cause around $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries in the US. Meanwhile, during the summer of 2013, a

large algal bloom led to a voluntary ban on harvesting from all 20 mussel sites around Shetland. This is a key area that produces approximately 77% of rope-grown mussels in

around the UK in recent years have been highly encouraging. Satellite monitoring in and around salmon farms in Scotland has provided timely information to salmon farmers, allowing proactive stock management. In many cases, this has reduced the risk of significant economic implications to farms. As yet, however, these services have not yet been made available to shellfish farms.

ShellEye project

A team of UK scientists have partnered with stakeholders in the shellfish industry to explore the use of satellites and meteorological data to monitor and forecast water quality events, such as harmful algal blooms. The ShellEye project (, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will use this research to develop an easy-to-use and

cost-effective water quality bulletin service, specifically for UK shellfish farms. This project combines the expertise of four research organisations (Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Scottish Association for Marine Science, University of Exeter and the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) and partner shellfish farms in Scotland and the south-west of England. The main challenge of using satellite

imagery to monitor water quality issues, specifically HABs, is identification of the algal species. In addition to colour images of the ocean, sensors aboard satellites can estimate chlorophyll concentrations – the green pigment found in all plants – within an area of water. By comparing this data against the characteristics of known species, scientists can deduce the likely culprit forming a bloom and will be able to estimate the potential risk to the local environment. Satellite imagery can also be analysed

alongside simple models that relate local environmental conditions, such as rainfall and sunlight, to reduced water quality. ShellEye intends to use these techniques to develop a capability expressly for algae that is potentially dangerous to UK shellfish.

Multidisciplinary approach

Dr Peter Miller, ShellEye project leader and senior scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, explains: “Our team will be working with colleagues in aquaculture companies to extend and adapt approaches that have been successfully developed for salmon farmers so that they can also benefit shellfish farmers. This new approach to monitoring water quality around aquaculture sites, coupled with recent advances in satellite imagery and observations, will help build a multidisciplinary approach as well as a range of specific tools to support the UK’s shellfish aquaculture industry.” The ultimate aim of this project is to use the

results of this research to develop a user- friendly service, providing farmers with useful and timely ‘news bulletins’ on water conditions and potential risks. Importantly, all of this work will be carried out in consultation with partner shellfish farmers in pilot locations, allowing them to provide valuable knowledge and feedback on products to ensure these tools meet their needs as well as those of the wider shellfish community. Research is already underway with regular sampling activities in Scotland and the deployment of a research mooring is imminent in Cornwall.


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