Northcoast Plankton Identification and Monitoring Program

The Northcoast region has been undergoing dramatic changes with respect to how natural resources are being utilized. There is a need to diversify the resource industries in the community so that resources which are currently under stress will not be exhausted and new resources can be brought on line. This has led to the exploration of opportunities in new fisheries, in value-added processing, and in mariculture.

In 2000, the Northcoast Plankton Identification and Monitoring Program was initiated. It was designed to meet the following community needs of the Northcoast: (1) increased knowledge of marine plankton as they relate to mariculture; and (2) community participation and increased capacity in plankton monitoring.

The purpose of the Northcoast Plankton Identification and Monitoring Program was to train local mariculture operators in the techniques of monitoring the location, density, species composition, and timing of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations in Northcoast waters in order to assist them in making informed decisions regarding harmful algal blooms, site locations, and timing of remote setting, grow-out, and harvesting operations. Additionally, the project collected plankton data for a period of one year at several sites in the Northcoast area, and attempted to correlate this data with PSP and domoic acid assays carried out simultaneously at the same sites.

Ten study sites were selected in the Northcoast region: (1) Prince Rupert Harbour, (2) Humpback Bay Site 1, (3) Humpback Bay Site 2, (4) Holland Rock, (5) Rachel Island, (6) Metlakatla Bay, (7) Birnie Island, (8) Freeman Pass, (9) Fin Island, and (10) Rennell Sound. A year-long study was completed at three sites (sites 1, 2, and 3). PSP and domoic acid testing were performed at 6 sites (sites 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10).

The project’s key results were (see Note):

  • Identification of approximately 225 local phytoplankton and zooplankton species.
  • The initiation of baseline population studies for phytoplankton and zooplankton in the waters around Prince Rupert.
  • The partial development of an interactive CD ROM for plankton identification.
  • Training of twelve local people in plankton sampling and preservation, and two in plankton enumeration and identification.

In 2001, the Northcoast Plankton Identification and Monitoring Program was downsized to the current Marine Harmful Species Monitoring Program, which ran until 2009. Over its eight years of operation, the program collected samples from 6 sites (Rennel Sound, Bulley Island, Birnie Island, Metlakatla Bay, Fin Island, and Loretta Island). These samples have been analyzed for the presence of Alexandrium sp. (the species responsible for PSP) and Dinophysis sp. (the species responsible for DSP). Information on a number of other harmful algal species has been recorded on a voluntary basis by the sample analyst, Barb Faggetter.

Shown below is a map of the plankton monitoring stations used from the year 2000 to 2009.

Plankton stations.

Click on the following links to view data collected during the plankton project

  • Photos of Northcoast plankton

  • Database of plankton observations

  • Graphs of plankton trends

Based on the research carried out on the Northcoast and other international research projects, one can see that the study of plankton populations can provide valuable information:

  • as a part of basic ecological research and food web analysis.
  • as an indicator of global climate change.
  • to assist in the siting of mariculture operations.
  • to aid in the timing of remote setting, grow-out, and harvesting procedures in mariculture.
  • to provide an early detection method for harmful algal blooms and related incidences of shellfish poisoning.
  • to monitor for alien invasive species (planktonic larvae or adults).

The Marine Harmful Species Monitoring Program would like to thank the following agencies for their support and funding:

  • Initial program start-up and student grants – Fisheries Renewal BC and NRC-IRAP.
  • Funding for sample collection and Alexandrium and Dinophysis counts – Northcoast Water Quality and Biotoxin Program.
  • Production of mussel extracts for PSP and ASP testing – Northern Laboratories Ltd.
  • Testing for PSP and ASP toxins – CFIA.
  • Counts for other HAB species and data analysis – Ocean Ecology.