Harmful algal blooms and non-indigenous species in the Arctic

Working Group on Introductions and Transfers of Marine Organisms,
ICES-IOC-IMO Working Group on Ballast and Other Ship Vectors
ICES-IOC Working Group on Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics
Published: 24 June 2020

​Vectors for the introduction of marine species that are non-indigenous, harmful, or both, as well as their detection, are issues of concern and research across the Working Group on the Introduction and Transfer of Marine Organisms (WGITMO), ICES-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC) Working Group on Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics (WGHABD​), and ICES-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC)-International Maritime Organization (IMO) Working Group on Ballast and Other Ship Vectors (WGBOSV).

Early detection is particularly important in vulnerable habitats—such as the Arctic—where climate change is having a dramatic impact on the environment, both in terms of the increased potential for shipping traffic to transport and introduce species in this sensitive area, as well as the biological impacts (an increased risk for the survival of new species).

In 2020, WGHABD, WGITMO, and WGBOSV met jointly for the first time. Members of all three expert groups exchanged their experiences using molecular methods and the measurement of algal toxins from the water to identify the presence of HAB species. Additionally, the results from studies on HABs and invasive, non-indigenous species present in Alaskan and Canadian Arctic areas were summarized. ​

One study focused on the distribution, community structure, and dynamics of Alexandrium catenella (which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning) and Pseudo-nitzschia (which can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning) in the Northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. High abundances of A. catenella cysts and cells were observed in waters previously thought to be too cold to initiate and sustain large blooms, and multiple toxic species of Pseudo-nitzschia were observed as well – all in a region with little experience with toxic HABs. Notably, a review of Canadian data revealed the widespread presence of more than a dozen potential toxin producing species throughout Canadian Arctic waters, the Beaufort Sea, Baffin Bay, North West Passages, well as Hudson Bay and the Labrador Sea.

All three groups highlight similar issues with the use of molecular methods, including the need for standardization of methods among laboratories to allow data to be compared, concerns about primer bias, and the requirement for bioinformatics expertise and computing power. Future, innovative molecular technologies will benefit all three working groups.

The Working Group on Introduction and Transfers of Marine Organisms (WGITMO) deals with aquatic alien species that have an influence on and occur in the marine environment.

ICES-IOC-IMO Working Group on Ballast and Other Ship Vectors (WGBOSV) ​provides scientific support to the development of international measures aimed at reducing the risk of transporting non-native species via shipping activities.​

ICES-IOC Working Group on Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics (WGHABD) looks at the dynamics of HABs and reviews and discusses HAB events, providing annual advice and updates on the state of HABs in the region.

Back to ICES Science Highlights: science and advice in a changing Arctic​.

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Shellfish toxin producing species observed in the Chukchi sea.

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Harmful algal blooms and non-indigenous species in the Arctic

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