The Alliance for Coastal Technologies (ACT) is running a Sensor Demonstration to help accelerate the development of field portable, rapid detection test kits for the detection of harmful algal toxins and their associated species. Over the last decade, a large number of new test approaches have been developed, including but not limited to immunoassay and molecular methods for the detection of toxins of interest like domoic acid, saxitoxins, and microcystins. Lack of an independent evaluation of these new tools, relative to standard methods, can be a barrier for adopting them into standardized monitoring programs. To that end, ACT is working with three commercial vendors and a research lab from The Ohio State University to conduct a rigorous year-long evaluation of these technologies. The evaluation consists of a series of laboratory and field tests including applications in Long Island, NY, Lake Erie, and Monterey Bay, CA.
In early May the evaluation team, led by Dr. Timothy Davis of Bowling Green State University and Dr. Holly Bowers of Moss Landing Marine Labs, were working in Long Island and witness to a perfect use case highlighting the need for these sensors. They were testing detection of saxitoxin--a neurotoxin produced by harmful algal blooms that can accumulate in bivalves, like clams, and cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans. They were monitoring the abundance of saxitoxin synthesis gene copies and the concentrations of saxitoxin in plankton samples using ELSA assays alongside field partner Dr. Chris Gobler of Stony Brook University. Dr. Gobler runs a traditional weekly plankton toxin monitoring program in parallel with New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) shellfish monitoring program. On May 4, the DEC declared a temporary closure shellfish beds in western Shinnecock Bay due to the accumulation of saxitoxin. The Director of the DEC stated that "due to the presence of marine biotoxins in shellfish, and the potential presence in carnivorous gastropods which feed on shellfish, which may render both hazardous for use as food, the shellfish lands for all that of western Shinnecock Bay are uncertified effective immediately."
The closure was still in effect at the time of this publication, and you can find the evaluations on ACT's page as they become available.