‘Game changer’ technology to combat algal blooms

University of the Highlands and Islands PhD student Solène Giraudeau-Potel and Dr Callum Whyte of SAMS with the FlowCytobot

Seafood Shetland has received a grant of £54,328 from the Coastal Communities Fund for a cutting-edge scientific initiative to support the early detection of harmful algal blooms. The fund, distributed by Shetland Islands Council, is supported by Crown Estate Scotland.

Ruth Henderson is chief executive of Seafood Shetland, the trade body representing fish processing, fish retailing and those engaged in growing shellfish in the marine environment surrounding the Shetland Islands. She said: “We are delighted to receive the funds which will enable us, through our partnership with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the NAFC Marine Centre UHI, to gather important data from a new robotic research tool that can identify phytoplankton in a water sample by simply taking its picture. The state-of-the-art technology will give us an early warning of harmful algal blooms forming in the water, which presents a major threat to our finfish and shellfish aquaculture industry.”

Scientists from SAMS and Shetland’s NAFC Marine Centre UHI will deploy the FlowCytobot system at two sites on the west coast of Shetland. Any presence and density of phytoplankton most commonly associated with harmful algal blooms will be detected early.

The team is led by Professor Keith Davidson from SAMS, who said: “This is a potential game changer in the quest for harmful algal bloom forecasting tools.”

“The FlowCytobot uses similar technology to the facial recognition software used in security and in smartphones. This will only be the fifth of its kind deployed in Europe and the first in the UK.”

Ruth Henderson continued: “The captured data will be transferred to the existing weekly risk assessment bulletins, which will summarise current risk and provide a more informed forecast for the following week. This will be disseminated directly to registered aquaculture businesses including Seafood Shetland members and interested stakeholders.

“We are particularly pleased to secure funds to support the aquaculture industry, which is the biggest contributor to the Crown Estate through its levies on sea farms.”

The Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) was introduced as a UK-wide programme created and funded by the UK Government, with the aim of encouraging the economic development of UK coastal communities. It is funded from the net revenue generated from Crown Estate Scotland marine assets.