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Coastal Zone Management, Phase I (AFRA II-6)

Project Number: RAF/7/005


To contribute to the sustainable development and management of the marine coastal environment through the application of isotope techniques; specifically to address the adverse effects of harmful algal blooms (HABs).


The project will initially focus on the Benguela upwelling system which experiences a wide range of negative effects due to HABs. Based on continuing reports, HABs are expected to increase in scope in many coastal regions throughout the world. Toxic algal species occurring in the Benguela upwelling system have been associated with mass mortalities of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds and other fauna, while human illness and death from eating seafood contaminated with algal toxins are well documented. Blooms of non-toxic algae also cause harm, such as the clogging of fish gill tissue, or to the indirect effects of high biomass accumulation, such as anoxia and hydrogen sulfide generation. The Member States of the Benguela region, including Angola, Namibia, and South Africa, are highly dependent on the fishery industry and are actively promoting the expansion of both aquaculture and the tourist industries.
The ability to effectively monitor the occurrence of toxins in contaminated fishery resources as well as the toxin-producing algae is critical to manage HABs and its impact in the Benguela region. Receptor binding assays (RBAs) for algal toxins represent a more rapid, sensitive, and cost-effective alternative to the currently employed mouse bioassay method of toxin detection and the estimate of human toxic potency. Moreover, current and pending restrictions by certain countries on the import of products tested for contaminants using live animals increases the urgency of identifying reliable alternatives to the mouse bioassay, especially as it relates to the region's growing aquaculture industry. RBAs are currently available for the detection of the algal toxins of concern to Member States, including those responsible for paralytic, amnesic, and neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (PSP, ASP, and NSP). An enzyme inhibition assay has been developed for the toxins causing diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP), which has also been reported from the Benguela region. Together, these assays can provide Member States with the capability to detect all algal toxins that either currently or are expected to pose a socio-economic and/or public health threat. Incorporation of receptor and enzyme inhibition assays into established or planned monitoring programmes are expected to initially supplement, but eventually replace, the mouse bioassay as the preferred regulatory method following certification, currently being conducted as part of an interregional TC project. In addition, the greater sensitivity of these assays relative to the mouse bioassay, coupled with their ability to detect toxins in algal cells, can provide an early warning of impending toxic events and thus expand the time available for implementation of management strategies.
There is clearly a strong justification to provide Member States of the Benguela region with the capability to perform RBAs for detecting the algal toxins of concern. The primary aim of this proposal is thus to transfer the RBA technology to Member States. This project will contribute directly to existing regional programmes, including the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Program (BCLME) funded by the Global Environmental Facility and the Benguela Environment Fisheries Interaction and Training Program (BENEFIT), primarily funded by Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), which currently incorporate aquaculture and HAB components. The project will interface with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which provides training in phytoplankton identification and design of HAB monitoring programmes.

National Commitment:

The participating Member States will provide adequate laboratory facilities and personnel and integrate the RBA technology in their national monitoring programmes.

Agency Input:

The Agency will provide laboratory equipment, training and expert services to enable the participating Member States to acquire the capability to screen for HAB-related toxicity using the RBA technology. The capability to manufacture radiolabelled toxins will be established at a suitable laboratory in the region.

Performance Indicators:

Written protocols incorporating RBA technique into national screening programmes. Number of samples tested.
Data on toxicity events available for decision-makers.
Successful completion of inter-comparison exercises among participating countries.

Expected Results:

The RBA technology will become part of national screening programmes for HABs. A shared regional database on HABs and shellfish will be established.

Project Impact:

Establishment of the RBA technology and related assays by the Member States and its incorporation into HABs and shellfish monitoring programmes will serve to enhance capabilities for the management and mitigation of HABs and its socio-economic and public health threat to the region. Implementation will contribute to meeting internationally accepted regulatory standards to enable export of fishery and aquaculture products by the Member States. Data generated by these assays will also be incorporated into a comparative regional database for HAB-related toxicity that will allow interfacing with the existing regional initiatives of BCLME and BENEFIT, leading to a more detailed description and understanding of HAB events in the region.