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New Research On Improving Biotoxin Monitoring In Shellfish

4th December 2019
Shellfish beds at Killary Harbour Shellfish beds at Killary Harbour Photo: Unukorno/Wikimedia

A postgraduate researcher is investigating the biotoxin production potential of Azadinium and related species in Irish waters, particularly in estuaries used for shellfish aquaculture such as Killary Harbour and Bantry Bay.

Stephen McGirr — a PhD candidate at the Institute of Technology Sligo and a Cullen Fellow at the Marine Institute — is studying Azadinium, a planktonic single-celled plant that lives in marine waters around Ireland.

Under certain conditions, Azadinium produces biotoxins which can build up in shellfish that feed on them. If eaten by humans, this can lead to shellfish poisoning.

Understanding more about the biology of this species would help both the shellfish aquaculture industry and protect human health.

“The genus Azadinium was first linked to incidents of shellfish poisoning in the 1990s and both toxic and non-toxic forms of the Azadinium species have since been identified in Irish waters,” McGirr says.

“More knowledge of the biology of the species is needed to support monitoring efforts currently underway to assist the aquaculture industry.”

Ireland’s aquaculture industry employed 1,925 people on 288 aquaculture production units, according to Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s Business of Seafood Report 2018. In 2018 it is estimated that Ireland produced 24,200 tonnes of farmed shellfish valued at €56 million.

“Aquaculture is a valuable industry to our national economy as well as for many of Ireland's coastal communities,” McGirr adds.

“The closure of aquaculture production sites due to biotoxins produced by organisms such as Azadinium impacts the industry and can also be detrimental to local economies.”

Stephen’s research supports the Marine Institute's National Phytoplanton Monitoring Programme, which monitors phytoplankton populations and dynamics around the Irish coastline.

‘Aquaculture is a valuable industry to our national economy as well as for many of Ireland's coastal communities’

McGirr says the Marine Institute’s Cullen Fellowship Programme is giving him the opportunity to learn and develop his skillset, working alongside scientists who are experts in their field, as well as gaining hands-on experience using state-of-the art equipment in the Institute's laboratories.

“I have joined two surveys on the RV Celtic Voyager along the south and western coastline of Ireland to collect both water column and sediment samples for our analyses.

“I have also presented my research at international conferences, including the International Conference on Molluscan Shellfish Safety held in Galway and the International Conference on Harmful Algae, held in Nantes, France.”

McGirr is currently focusing his efforts on translating the product of his research into articles for peer-reviewed scientific journals. His research supervisors are Joe Silke, Marine Institute and Dr Nicolas Touzet, IT Sligo.

The Cullen Fellowship Programme builds marine research capacity and capability by equipping graduates with the skills and expertise in raising awareness about our ocean, as well as Ireland's rich marine biodiversity and ecosystems.

The programme has provided grant aid to the value of €2.06 million supporting 24 PhD and three MSc students over the last five years. The research addresses a number of the 15 research themes identified in the National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy 2017-2021.

This project (Grant-Aid Agreement No CF/15/01) is carried out with the support of the Marine Institute and funded under the Marine Research Programme by the Irish Government.

Published in Marine Science
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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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