The Detection and Human Dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesia
  • Acronym: Ciguatera
  • Term: April 2020 – March 2023
  • Project Science Team Co-Chairs:
    Mitsutaku Makino (Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, Japan)
    Mark Wells (University of Maine, USA)
  • Project Coordinator:
    Alexander Bychkov (PICES)
  • Funding Agency:
    Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Japan, through the Fisheries Agency of Japan (JFA)
  • Parent PICES Committee:
    Human Dimensions Committee (HD)
  • Mailing list

Indonesia has one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the world on which many of its coastal communities depend upon for its biodiversity and ecological products. However, presently only about 7% of these coral reefs are in excellent condition whilst more than 35% are in poor condition, mainly due to anthropogenic stressors. This expanse of poor coral health in Indonesia is a relatively new phenomenon, and the human populations living adjacent to the deteriorating corals are not yet fully aware of the consequences of this change. Increasing areal extents of dead coral and expanding eel-grass habitats are known to lead to incursions and establishment of exotic populations of toxin-producing benthic algae. Fish that ingest these toxic benthic cells bioaccumlate and concentrate the toxin in their tissues, so that humans consuming fish in the region suffer a debilitating illness referred to as Ciguatera Fish Poisoning (CFP). In some tropical nations, CFP has resulted in people shunning the consumption of all fish from their local waters, negatively affecting the cultural, economic, and human health foundations for their communities.

CFP is endemic in many tropical coastal waters, and there is evidence that the abundance of the ciguatoxin-producing dinoflagellates may be increasing and their range may be expanding to higher latitudes with climate change. Reports of CFP in Indonesia presently are few, but this almost certainly is due to the difficulty in diagnosis in communities that lack proper training and experience. The methods to measure the presence and abundance of these harmful species are not well developed, and details of the toxin transfer to communities are a challenge to understand both as a biological event and as a social event. The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) recognizes the importance of CFP in Indonesian coastal waters and has targeted it as an area for developing capacity. This was the rationale for a PICES project entitled “The Detection and Human Dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesia” (acronym “Ciguatera”) and funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Japan, through the Fisheries Agency of Japan (JFA), from the Official Development Assistance (ODA) Fund. It is anticipated that this project will equip communities with the tools for technology-assisted knowledge generation that will enable them to make decisions to avoid any emerging health risk associated with fisheries and declining corals.

Project organization and funding

The request to undertake the project was accepted by PICES Governing Council in February 2020.

The project is expected to have strong connections and interactions with, and support relevant activities of, the PICES Scientific Committees on Human Dimensions – HD, Marine Environmental Quality – MEQ (through the Section on Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms in the North PacificS-HAB) and Fishery Science – FIS, PICES Technical Committees on Data Exchange – TCODE and on Monitoring – MONITOR, and the PICES FUTURE Science Program (specifically, Research Theme 3 on “How do human activities affect coastal ecosystems and how are societies affected by changes in these ecosystems?”). The HD Committee serves as the parent committee for the project.

To direct the project, a Project Science Team (PST) is established based on principles and procedures detailed in the PICES Policy for approval and management of special projects (Decision 2017/A/7). All PICES member countries and all the above-mentioned Committees are represented on the PST (see the membership below), co-chaired by Drs. Mitsutaku Makino and Mark Wells. The PST Co-Chairmen are responsible for the detailed planning and execution of the project and annual reporting to MAFF/JFA and to PICES Science Board through the HD Committee.

The Project Coordinator, Dr. Alexander Bychkov, is responsible for the management of the fund and annual reporting on its disposition to MAFF/JFA and to PICES Finance and Administration Committee.

Annual reports to MAFF/JFA are to be submitted within 90 days after the close of each project year ending March 31. Within PICES, Science Board takes the responsibility for reporting to Governing Council on the progress and achievements of the project, and the Finance and Administration Committee takes the responsibility for reporting to Governing Council on the financial and management aspects of the project.

Funding for Year 1 (FY 2020, ending March 31, 2021) was set at $96,385 CAD.

Project goal, key question and initiatives

The overall goal of the project is to build the capacity of local small-scale fishers and community members to monitor their coastal ecosystems and coastal fisheries to benefit human health in Pacific Rim developing countries (Indonesia). The project is focused on Ciguatera Fish Poisoning (CFP) in tropical reef fisheries, which globally has the greatest human health and economic impacts of any algal-based poisoning syndromes.

The key question of the project: How to best foster the use of smartphone-based observation tools, developed during the 2017–2020 PICES/MAFF project on “Building Capacity for Coastal Monitoring by Local Small-scale Fishers” (FishGIS), to empower coastal communities to assess, detect, and minimize their exposure to CFP in community-scale fisheries?

The project major initiatives include:

  1. Coastal ecosystem monitoring activities by local small-scale fishers and other community members to detect ecosystem changes (e.g., changes in water quality, and the presence and changes in the spatial distributions of dead coral and eel-grass benthic environments);
  2. Detection of CFP toxin-containing dinoflagellates in the reef environment using smartphone observation tools developed during the FishGIS project as well as new international standardized sampling protocols for toxic benthic algae;
  3. Training of community members to utilize these tools for generating citizen-science data streams to be used in local decision-making on coastal fisheries regions to avoid a health risk associated with fishing until the presence of CFP toxin-containing dinoflagellates is minimized.
These three initiatives are to be supported by a series of annual capacity building workshops led by scientists from PICES member countries. At the workshops, the community will be encouraged to develop an “ASSESS. DETECT. AVOID!” convention in order to protect community members against this emerging health concern:

  1. To ASSESS the state of the local corals, community members will be taught to monitor some aspects water quality (turbidity and water color) of the reef and to document the outbreaks of eel-grass or the expansion of the dead coral using the smartphone-based technology and approach developed during the FishGIS project;
  2. To DETECT the presence of the toxin-containing dinoflagellates in the reef environment and to help develop predictive indices for reef regions susceptible to CFP, community members will be trained in two methodologies: one that is developed within the project and is based on specialized smartphone-driven microscopes and community-appropriate protocols, and the other that employs a detection kit recently created by an international CFP working group (Monaco, 2018) to determine the presence of Gambierdiscus in the water column and measure its abundance.
  3. To AVOID the transfer of contaminated fish from the damaged environment to the tables of families, community members will be encouraged to reduce risk – avoid eating fish from regions where Gambierdiscus numbers are high.

It is expected that the combination of training and citizen-science contributions in the project will: (1) generate the needed capacity for monitoring CFP hotspots in Indonesian waters, (2) provide valuable datasets for the study of Gambierdiscus and the factors controlling its abundance in reef systems, and (3) increase human wellness by identifying fishing regions where the health of community members is at risk.

In addition to the primary initiatives, initial steps will be taken to explore two secondary initiatives: modifying the smartphone FishGIS application to incorporate (1) artificial intelligence-based assessment of fish stocks from the collective catch data reported by community members, and (2) a tsunami early warning notification for remote fishing communities, with the goal of laying the foundation for future full development of these capabilities.

Meetings and Events
  • First Project Science Team meeting (in conjunction with the MSEAS-2020 Symposium, to be held from May 25–29, 2020, in Yokohama, Japan)
    Objectives: (1) to discuss the overall project strategy and develop timelines for project activities and products and (2) to review and refine the Year 1 workplan.
Project Science Team members
Daisuke Ambe
(representative of TCODE)
Fisheries Research and Education Agency
2-12-4 Fukuura, Kanazawa-ku
Yokohama, Kanagawa
Japan 236-8648
Seung Ho Baek
South Sea Research Institute
Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology
41 Jangmok-1-gil, Jangmok-myon Geoje
Republic of Korea 5320
Vladimir Kulik
(representative of MONITOR)
Pacific branch of VNIRO (“TINRO”)
4 Shevchenko Alley
Vladivostok, Primorsky Kray
Russia 690091
Mitsutaku Makino
(representative of HD)
PST Co-Chairman
Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute (AORI)
The University of Tokyo
5-1-5, Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa-shi Chiba
Japan 277-8564
Shion Takemura
(representative of HD)
National Research Institute of Fisheries Science
Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency
2-12-4 Fukuura, Kanazawa-ku
Yokohama, Kanagawa
Japan 236-8648
Naoki Tojo
(representative of FIS)
Faculty of Fisheries Sciences
Hokkaido University
3-1-1, Minato-cho
Japan 041-8611
Vera Trainer
(representative of MEQ)
Northwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, NOAA
2725 Montlake Blvd. East
Seattle, WA
U.S.A. 98112
Charles Trick
(representative of MEQ)
Department of Biology
Western University
Room 402, North Campus Bldg.
1151 Richmond St. N.
London, ON
Canada N6A 5B7
Pengbin Wang
Second Institute of Oceanography
Ministry of Natural Resources
36 Baochubei Rd.
Hangzhou, Zhejiang
People’s Republic of China 310012
Mark Wells
PST Co-Chairman
School of Marine Sciences
University of Maine
5741 Libby Hall
Orono, ME
U.S.A. 04469
Alexander Bychkov
PICES Secretariat
9860 West Saanich Road
Sidney, BC
Canada V8L 4B2