Ciguatera Fish Poisoning (CFP) in tropical reef fisheries globally has the greatest human health and economic impacts of any algal-based poisoning syndromes. CFP stems from the human consumption of fish containing toxins produced by benthic microalgae of the genus Gambierdiscus and Fukuyoa, dinoflagellates which are the initial sources of ciguatoxin. Ciguatoxin affects sodium transport channels in an organism by lowering the voltage-gated opening in their cells, thereby altering the nervous system in ways that negatively affect numerous aspects of fish and animal physiology. Ciguatoxin is lipophilic, meaning that it accumulates in fatty tissues and becomes concentrated up the food web. When present at sufficiently high concentrations in raw or cooked fish, ciguatoxin consumption leads to the onset of the major CFP symptoms – vomiting, diarrhea, numbness of extremities, mouth and lips, reversal of the sensations of hot and cold, muscle and joint aches – within 1 to 3 hours of ingestion and may last for days, weeks or even months. Impacts of CFP on the human dimension extend far beyond the proximate health and economic outcomes. Chronically impacted communities tend to become fearful of local as well as other fish sources, and they transition from these traditional ways of life to one where all protein is imported from foreign sources.
Although CFP is recognized to occur in pristine environments, its emergence in new regions, and intensification in others, often is associated with anthropogenic pressures. There also is evidence that climate drivers may affect its distribution. Expanding areal extents of dead coral and eel-grass habitats are known to lead to incursions and establishment of exotic populations of toxin-producing benthic algae and increased CFP presence. The primary concerns for local communities are first to identify reef regions where the causative organism is abundant and second, to manage their anthropogenic stressors to minimize increases in its presence.
Indonesia was chosen as a developing Pacific Rim country to implement the project. This country 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. 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. This was the rationale for this project “Building Local Warning Networks for the Detection and Human Dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesian Communities” (acronym “Ciguatera”), 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.
The importance of having more effective fisheries management practices is widely recognized in Indonesia, and this leads to support by the government and the willingness of stakeholders to consider new approaches such as development and implementation of a citizen/fisher-based observation system linked with fisheries scientists and managers. The project foundation would be the strong collaboration with the Indonesian Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) developed over previous PICES/MAFF projects – “Development of the prevention systems for harmful organisms’ expansion in the Pacific Rim” (2007–2012), “Marine ecosystem health and human well-being” (MarWeb; 2012–2017) and “Building capacity for coastal monitoring by local small-scale fishers” (FishGIS; 2017–2020).
The 2017–2020 FishGIS project has led to the development and implementation of smartphone-based tools for fisheries and environmental observations by local small-scale fishers and community members in Indonesia. The new project aims to adapt and further refine these smartphone-based capabilities or measurement and automated reporting, with the addition of benthic toxic algae measurements, to empower Indonesian coastal communities to minimize their CFP exposure in community-scale fisheries.
The request to undertake the project was approved by PICES Governing Council in February 2020. The project principles agreed to by MAFF/JFA and PICES can be found here.
The project has strong connections and interactions with, and supports the relevant activities of, the PICES Scientific Committees on Human Dimensions – HD, Marine Environmental Quality – MEQ (through the Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms in the North Pacific – S-HAB) and Fishery Science – FIS, PICES Technical Committees on Data Exchange – TCODE and on Monitoring – MONITOR, and the PICES FUTURE Science Program (Forecasting and Understanding Trends, Uncertainty and Responses of North Pacific Marine Ecosystems) 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 is the parent committee for the project.
To direct the project, a Project Science Team (PST) was established by PICES Science Board 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 Science Board through the HD Committee.
Dr. Alexander Bychkov was appointed by the PICES Executive Secretary to serve as the Project Coordinator and is responsible for the management of the fund, and for the 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. Funding for Year 2 (FY 2021, ending March 31, 2022) was set at $96,385 CAD.