Impacts of climate change on harmful algal blooms (HABs)
Eileen Bresnan, Keith Davidson, Martin Edwards, Liam Fernand, Richard Gowen, Ailsa Hall, Kevin Kennington, April McKinney, Steve Milligan, Robin Raine and Joe Silke
Bresnan, E., Davidson, K., Edwards, M., Fernand, L., Gowen,R., Hall, A., Kennington, K., McKinney, A., Milligan, S., Raine, R. and Silke, J. (2013) Impacts of climate change on harmful algal blooms, MCCIP Science Review 2013, 236-243, doi:10.14465/2013.arc24.236-243
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High biomass Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) such as Karenia mikimotoi and shellfish toxin producing HAB species continue to be observed in UK and Republic of Ireland waters. Regional differences continue to be seen in the distribution of HABs in UK and RoI waters with impacts mainly observed in the south and west coast of Ireland and regions in the UK with a strong Atlantic influence, e.g. Regions 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7. There is little monitoring aside from the continuous plankton recorder (CPR) in Region 8. The impacts from HABs in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man are generally low.
Since the last MCCIP report card was issued, blooms of Karenia mikimotoi have caused problems in Ayrshire, Scotland, and also in the north-west coast of Ireland where concerns about the quantity of dead wild fish washing on shore during an event in Ireland in 2012 resulted in two beaches being closed to the public.
No clear trend that can be attributed to climate change can be observed in the incidence of shellfish toxin producing HABs since the last report card was issued. During the last two years the incidence of some shellfish toxins has continued to decrease (e.g. paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins in Scotland). High concentrations of yessotoxins (YTX) and azaspiracids (AZAs) have been recorded for the first time in Scotland. Northern Ireland enforced its first shellfish harvesting closure for high concentrations of domoic acid (the toxin responsible for amnesic shellfish poisoning, ASP) in 2012.
A recent survey in Scottish waters (Regions 1, 6 and 7) has revealed the presence of domoic acid in the urine and faeces of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina). The impacts of these toxins on the health of marine mammals are unknown and a more detailed study is currently being undertaken.
Many of the future impacts of climate change are unknown. Increasing sea surface temperatures as a result of climate change may increase the potential for blooms of species that are not currently found in UK and RoI waters through range expansion or human mediated introduction. There is evidence that no new HAB species have become established during the last two years.
An increase in the duration of stratification of the water column may influence the abundance of HABs in UK and RoI waters. This is particularly relevant in shelf areas and Region 8, an area where offshore high biomass K. mikimotoi blooms have been hypothesized to initiate and impact coastal areas along the west of Ireland and Regions 6, 7 and 1. Conversely, an increase in wind speed and duration may reduce the duration of stratification in the water column. This may result in a decrease of some HAB dinoflagellate species and an increase in HAB diatom species. Little is known about the impacts of ocean acidification or changes in offshore circulation on the incidence of HABs. The role of offshore blooms in seeding coastal blooms (e.g. of K. mikimotoi) remains unknown and the lack of monitoring in Region 8 and on the shelf edge compounds this knowledge gap.