About Cal-PReEMPT


California coastal waters are threatened by HABs, but the state’s budget for monitoring is under pressure for cutbacks. Economic realities compel managers to find efficient methods to keep up with their increased monitoring burden. Efficient and cost-effective technologies for species and toxin detection have been developed and remote sensing capabilities are available for bloom tracking, but a constraint to adoption of new methods by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is the lack of available funds for ground-truthing them, a necessary step before full adoption by the agency. For example, pre-screening plankton and shellfish samples in the field, using simple test kits, could reduce the number of samples submitted to the regulatory laboratory by 80 – 90%, representing a significant potential savings in analytical costs, but before CDPH can adopt these kits, they must be assured of their efficacy.

To bridge the gulf between availability of new tools and integration of those into monitoring efforts, NOAA, through its Monitoring and Event Response Program for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB), is providing funding to perform necessary validation of new tools for incorporation of them into the CDPH monitoring program.

We have established pilot project sites where new technologies are incorporated into an intensive monitoring program, in combination with a tiered decision-making protocol that dictates specific steps to take in response to field observations. The power of this approach is that it paves the way for ultimately shifting much of the monitoring effort to the field, where a network of volunteers, with overall guidance from the CDPH, pre-screen samples using new technologies, thus ensuring early warning of impending blooms while avoiding un-necessary and expensive lab-based sample testing. Using the best available remote sensing data in conjunction with field data provided by the volunteer force will enable tracking the inception, proliferation, advection and decline of bloom events in real-time along the expansive California coast. In turn, this provides managers necessary information to make informed decisions on when and where to increase field efforts.


The goal of this MERHAB effort is to implement an economically sustainable monitoring plan for the California coastline that exceeds current capabilities, and to evaluate current methods as well as new technologies for rapid toxin and species detection and bloom tracking. The most cost effective approach to early detection and rapid response uses field-based methods for phytoplankton observation and toxin detection. Field screening of plankton and shellfish samples, following a tiered approach to decision making, could reduce the number of shellfish samples submitted to the regulatory laboratory by 80 – 90%, representing a significant potential savings in analytical costs.

Project Objectives

We do not have the ability to prevent harmful algal blooms. Nor do we, yet, have sufficient understanding to predict the timing and duration, spatial extent, advection and decline of blooms. Thus, until these capabilities are realized, early detection and rapid response remains the best strategy for providing public health protection. To meet this need, we have designed a series of linked objectives based on evaluation and implementation of (1) Field-Based Technology, (2) Laboratory-Based Technology, (3) Remote Sensing, (4) Data Analysis, and (5) Community Outreach.

1. Field-Based Technology

A. Pilot Study Areas
Locations for pilot projects have been selected based on their diversity of ecological conditions and HAB species, high relative frequency of occurrence for the target HAB species and toxin, and availability of historic and/or existing oceanographic programs. The selected sites are:

(1) the Drakes Bay region along the Marin coast (paralytic shellfish poisoning);
(2) Monterey Bay, including sites in Santa Cruz and Monterey (multiple toxins); and
(3) San Luis Obispo (amnesiac shellfish poisoning).

B. Tiered Approach Protocol –Develop a field protocol and decision tree for a tiered approach to using the various field tools.

C. Toxin Detection Methods – Incorporate new toxin detection methods into pilot projects, including the Jellet Rapid Testing Ltd. MIST Alert™ test kits for both PSP toxins and domoic acid in phytoplankton and shellfish samples.

2. Laboratory-Based Technology

A. New Toxin Detection Methods – Validate the receptor binding assay (RBA) for PSP and domoic acid.

B. Gene Probe Technology – Incorporate whole cell (FISH) probing method into pilot projects.

3. Remote Sensing

A. Retrospective Analysis – Evaluate remote sensing as a monitoring aid.
Examine existing CDPH qualitative phytoplankton data, which provides coverage of entire CA state coastline, to determine what species are associated with blooms detected using imagery.

B. Development of Predictive Tools – Following the identification and processing of recent historic data corresponding to bloom events associated with adequate phytoplankton and biotoxin data, begin collection of remote sensing products for current HAB events.

4. Comprehensive Data Analysis

A. Evaluation of Field Technologies-- Evaluate new field technologies with respect to:

(1) performance relative to existing accredited lab methods (accuracy, precision, frequency of false positive and false negative results);
(2) their performance relative to new lab-based toxin detection methods (gene probes, receptor binding assay);
(3) their utility as aids to early detection of impending HABs;
(4) their use for rapid-response monitoring and decision making for developing and on-going blooms; and
(5) their cost-effectiveness relative to current practices.

B. Database Management – Databases currently exist at CDPH for phytoplankton and biotoxin data that can incorporate the additional sources of data generated in this project. This project will make these data more readily available to decision makers.

5. Community Outreach

A. Local Workshops – Following the completion of the developmental work and the field and laboratory validation, conduct a series of hands-on workshops at the local level in HAB-impacted areas along the coast of California, including demonstrations and guidance in how to access and interpret the remote sensing products.

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