Building Local Warning Networks for the Detection and Human Dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesian Communities
  • 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
Project background

Benthic harmful algal bloom (HAB) species, such as the causative organism underlying Ciguatera Fish Poisoning (CFP), arguably have 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 dinoflagellate genera Gambierdiscus and Fukuyoa, which are the initial sources of ciguatoxin. The effect of CFP on the human dimension extends far beyond the proximate health and economic outcome – chronically impacted communities become fearful of local and other fish sources and transition from their traditional ways of life to one where all protein is imported from foreign sources, altering their cultural heritage.

CFP is endemic in many tropical Pacific regions. Although ciguatera and other toxin producing benthic HABs can occur in pristine environments, anthropogenic pressures and climate change are leading to its emergence in new regions, and intensification in others. There is evidence of range extension of these species into the waters of PICES member countries, which is raising significant concerns. The expansion of dead corals and eel-grass habitats that replace healthy coral reefs facilitates intrusion and establishment of exotic populations of toxin-producing benthic algae. Despite the widespread impacts of benthic HABs, the resultant health and socio-economic effects remain poorly understood. This was the motivation for PICES to accept a request from the Japanese government to undertake a 3-year project entitled “Building local warning networks for the detection and human dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesian communities” (acronym Ciguatera) and funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Japan, through the Fisheries Agency of Japan, from the Official Development Assistance Fund.

Indonesia was chosen as a developing Pacific Rim country to implement the project. The country is part of the Coral Triangle, the most biodiverse marine area on Earth, and these extensive reefs are key to maintaining the ecological products that contribute to fisheries in this region. However, presently only about 7% of these coral reefs are in excellent condition, while anthropogenic stressors have left more than 30% in poor condition. Decreasing coral health in Indonesia is a relatively new phenomenon compared to other areas of the world, and the human coastal populations living adjacent to the deteriorating corals are not yet fully aware of the consequences of this change. Communities must understand the risks of exposure to keep the impact of benthic HABs to a minimum. The highest risk is when the reefs, which communities depend on for fish, have large patches of dead coral or large seagrass mats, as these surfaces are ideal for the growth of benthic algal cells. Current reports of benthic HAB occurrences such as CFP are low in Indonesia, almost certainly because diagnosis is difficult without proper training and experience.

The importance of having more effective fisheries management practices is widely recognized in Indonesia, and this has led 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 Ciguatera project was the fourth PICES project in Indonesia funded by MAFF, with its foundation being the strong collaborations developed with the Indonesian government agencies and research institutions during PICES-MAFF projects conducted in the period from 2007 to 2020. The Indonesian Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) have been PICES’ major partners for the previous three PICES-MAFF projects (for more than a decade!) – “Development of the prevention systems for harmful organisms’ expansion in the Pacific Rim” (2007–2012), “Marine ecosystem health and human well-being” (2012–2017; MarWeb), and “Building capacity for coastal monitoring by local small-scale fishers” (2017–2020; FishGIS). Recently, BPTT and LIPI have been incorporated into the National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia (BRIN), which better enabled the collective collaboration in the Ciguatera project.

Project objective and initiatives

The request to undertake the Ciguatera 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 objective of the project was 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. The project’s focus was to detect and monitor benthic harmful algal bloom (HAB) species in tropical reef fisheries to ensure seafood safety.

The 2017–2020 FishGIS project led to the development and implementation of smartphone-based tools for fisheries and environmental observations, such as water quality, phytoplankton, fish catch, floating garbage (plastics) and Illegal Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, by local small-scale fishers and community members in Indonesia. The Ciguatera project aimed to adapt and further refine these smartphone-based capabilities for 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.

Consistent with the directives of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development (UNDOS), the project included three major initiatives:

  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 distribution of dead coral and eel-grass benthic environments) using smartphone-based technology developed during the FishGIS project and modified/refined during the Ciguatera project;
  2. Detection of CFP toxin-containing dinoflagellates in the reef environment using two complimentary approaches: (a) implementation of smartphone-based tools developed during the FishGIS project, and modified during the Ciguatera project, and (b) employing internationally-standardized sampling protocols for toxic benthic algae;
  3. Training of local fishers and community members to utilize these tools for generating citizen-science data available for local decision-making on coastal fisheries to avoid the transfer of contaminated fish to the tables of families until the presence of CFP toxin-containing dinoflagellates is minimized.
In addition to the primary initiatives, early steps were taken to explore two secondary initiatives: modifying the FishGIS application to incorporate (1) artificial intelligence-based assessment of fish stocks from the collective catch data reported by the local fishers, 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.

Project organization and funding

The project had strong connections and interactions with the PICES Scientific Committees on Human Dimensions (HD), Fishery Science (FIS), and Marine Environmental Quality (MEQ) (through the Section on Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms in the North Pacific – S-HAB), PICES Technical Committees on Data Exchange (TCODE) and on Monitoring (MONITOR), and the PICES FUTURE (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?”). HD was 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 relevant Scientific and Technical Committees were represented on the PST led by Dr. Mitsutaku Makino (HD Committee Chair; Japan) and Dr. Mark Wells (S-HAB Co-Chair; USA). The PST Co-Chairs were responsible for the detailed planning and execution of the project and annual reporting to MAFF/JFA and to Science Board through the HD Committee. In PICES, Science Board took on the task for reporting to Governing Council on the progress and achievements of the project.

A total MAFF contribution for the project was $292,653 CAD: $99,861 in Year 1, $99,875 in Year 2 and $92,917 in Year 3. Dr. Alexander Bychkov was appointed by the PICES Executive Secretary to serve as the Project Coordinator and was responsible for the management of the fund and annual reporting on its disposition to MAFF/JFA and to PICES Finance and Administration Committee. In PICES, the Finance and Administration Committee took on the task of reporting to Governing Council on the financial and management aspects of the project.

Meetings and Events
  • Seventh PST meeting [photo] (March 16–18, 2023; Yokohama, Japan)
    Objectives: 1) to review the outcomes of the January 2023 community training workshop in Lombok (Indonesia) and the results from the Indonesian field sampling program in the Gili Matra region (May 2022 – February 2023), and, (2) to summarize the outcomes from the project and to finalize the tasks for the preparation of the final reports, and (3) to set the stage for a new 3-year PICES-MAFF project (2023–2026).
    Seventh PST meeting report
    • Shion Takemura et. al.
      Smartphone applications used/modified during the project (FishGIS, HydroColor)
    • Daisuke Ambe
      Data Policy
    • Suhendar Sachoemar et. al.
      Summary MOU and Implementation Agreement (IA) PICES - Institut Teknologi Indonesia (ITI) on building local warning networks for the detection and human dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesia
    • Arief Rachman et. al.
      Report and findings on Ciguatera Indonesia project 2022-2023
    • Mark Wells
      Introduction to PlanktoScope International Workshop and Training on CFP, Lombok, 2023
    • Naoki Tojo
      Project evaluation of “Building Local Warning Networks for the Detection and Human Dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesian Communities (Ciguatera)” with PDM and PO
    • Seung Ho Baek
      Distributional characteristics of benthic HAB in Korean coastal waters and East Asian area
    • Moonho Son
      Distribution of CFP (Ciguatera Fish Poisoning) dinoflagellate in Korea
    • Pengbin Wang et. al.
      Ciguatera Fish Poisoning, the works in China

  • Training/capacity building workshop (January 25–27, 2023; Lombok, Indonesia)
    Objectives: (1) to disseminate information to the broad spectrum of participants about fisheries management and the hazards of benthic harmful algal blooms (particularly CFP) in Indonesian coastal areas, (2) to provide technical, hands-on training on the use of smartphone-based tools for monitoring of fisheries resources (FishGIS) and environmental health conditions (HydroColor), and on the use of Planktoscope for quantifying benthic and pelagic phytoplankton, and (3) to communicate the consequence of changes to the marine resources on the community fishers (see Chapter 6 of the Seventh PST meeting report for details).

  • Two talks at the PICES-2022 HD/MEQ Contributed Paper Session (September 27, 2022; Busan, Korea)
    Objective: to present the initial results from the Ciguatera Indonesia program.
    • Arief Rachman et al. “Potential threats of harmful algal blooms and ciguatera fish poisoning in the marine tourism park of Gili Matra islands, Indonesia” [abstract]
    • Suhendar Sachoemar et al. “Ciguatera Research Strategic Planning to build local warning networks for the detection and human dimension of ciguatera fish poisoning in Indonesia” [abstract]

  • Sixth PST meeting [photo] (September 22, 2022, in conjunction with PICES-2022 in Busan, Korea)
    Objectives: (1) to review the current state of the FishGIS application, (2) to assess the results to date from the field sampling program in the Gili Matra region and modify, if needed, plans for the follow-up surveys, and (3) to discuss activities for the rest of Year 3, including a community training and dissemination workshop in Lombok in January 2023 and a final PST meeting in March 2023.
    Sixth PST meeting report

  • Fifth PST virtual meeting (April 25, 2022)
    Objectives: (1) to summarize Year 2 activities, (2) to review the current state of the FishGIS application and suggested improvements, and to discuss the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy of the application, (3) to reassess and modify, if needed, plans for the enhanced field sampling program in Indonesia, and (4) to initiate planning for a training and dissemination workshop in the Gili Matra region in early 2023.
    Fifth PST meeting report

  • Fourth PST virtual meeting (September 15, 2021)
    Objective: to discuss the PDM and PO development, with emphasis on the inputs from the PST members and Indonesian colleagues, and on the anticipated outcomes.
    Fourth PST meeting report

  • Third PST virtual meeting [photo] (August 30, 2021)
    Objectives: (1) to review existing data on benthic HABs in Indonesia, (2) to evaluate the developed PDM (ver. 1) and Plan of Operation (PO; ver. 1), and (3) to discuss research ethics issues.
    Third PST meeting report

  • Second PST virtual meeting [photo] (July 13, 2021)
    Objectives: (1) to review the updates in the FishGIS smartphone application, (2) to discuss the draft PDM and further steps in the development of this framework, and (3) to reassess, and modify the project implementation planning.
    Second PST meeting report

  • First PST virtual meeting [photo] (March 9, 2021)
    Objectives: (1) to review the overall strategy and general directions for the project, (2) to create timelines for project activities and deliverables, (3) to determine the main elements of the Year 2 workplan, and (4) to initiate the development of a Project Design Matrix (PDM).
    First PST meeting report

  • First Project Science Team (PST) meeting was planned in conjunction with the Second International MSEAS Symposium (expected to be held in Yokohama, Japan, in May 2020 and now moved to June 2024). The meeting was canceled due to the COVID-19 health risks.

Ciguatera Indonesia field sampling program
BRIN and the PICES-MAFF Ciguatera project jointly supported a total of five extended sampling surveys in the Gili Matra region conducted in different seasons:
  • First survey (Survey I) on May 23–28, 2022 (Wet to Dry Season/Transition I)
  • Second survey (Survey II) on August 1–5, 2022 (Dry Season)
  • Third survey (Survey III) on October 10–16, 2022 (Dry to Wet Season/Transition II)
  • Fourth survey (Survey IV) on December 12–18, 2022 (Wet Season)
  • Fifth survey (Survey V) on February 20–25, 2023 (end of the Wet Season)
In addition to water column and benthic samples, fish caught around Gilli Matra or Lombok were purchased for ciguatoxin analysis. Indonesian researchers also collected fundamental socio-economic data in the area using the same methodology as in the previous PICES-MAFF projects (on-site surveys, questionnaires, and focus group discussions). As a consequence, a valuable initial assessment of water quality, benthic HAB, fisheries data, and socio-economic status was completed in the Gili Matra region (see Chapter 5 of the Seventh PST meeting report for details). Analysis of field samples is still ongoing, but preliminary results indicate that the threat of CFP in this area currently is low. These research activities were widely reported by the Indonesian mass media, and two talks by Indonesian scientists were presented at the 2022 PICES Annual Meeting in Busan, Korea.

Considering that one of the main goals of the project was capacity building, partial tuition support was provided to six undergraduate students from the Institute of Technology of Indonesia, University of Indonesia and Mataram University (two from each) to participate in field sampling surveys.
Ciguatera Final Scientific Report
Executive Summary
Scientific Report
Annual Progress Reports (PR)
PR-Year 2 (April 1, 2021 – March 31, 2022)
PR-Year 1 (April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021)
Annual Financial Reports (FR)
FR-Year 3 (April 2022 – March 2023)
FR-Year 2 (April 1, 2021 – March 31, 2022)
FR-Year 1 (April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021)
Summer 2023, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 40–43
Catalog for FishGIS application
Smartphone application to collect coastal fisheries and environmental information for adaptation to changes in the marine environment (FishGIS)
Media Coverage
Mandalica Post ITI and PICES Plan Ciguatera Research in the Waters of the Three Gilis
SuaraNTB The Governor of NTB Supports the Research of the ITI Research Team in Gili Matra
WartaJakarta Governor of NTB Supports Synergy of Ciguatera Indonesia and PICES
Project Science Team members
Daisuke Ambe
(representing TCODE)
Fisheries Research and Education Agency
2-12-4 Fukuura, Kanazawa-ku
Yokohama, Kanagawa, 236-8648
Seung Ho Baek
South Sea Research Institute
Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology
41 Jangmok-1-gil, Jangmok-myon Geoje, 5320
Republic of Korea
Vladimir Kulik
(representing MONITOR)
Pacific Branch of VNIRO (“TINRO”)
4 Shevchenko Alley
Vladivostok, Primorsky Kray, 690091
Mitsutaku Makino
Project Science Team Co-Chair
(representing HD)
Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute
The University of Tokyo
5-1-5, Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa-shi, Chiba, 277-8564
Shion Takemura
(representing HD)
Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency
2-12-4 Fukuura, Kanazawa-ku
Yokohama, Kanagawa, 236-8648
Naoki Tojo
(representing FIS)
Faculty of Fisheries Sciences
Hokkaido University
3-1-1, Minato-cho, Hakodate, 041-8611
Vera Trainer
(representing MEQ)
University of Washington
Marine Program Director
Olympic Natural Resources Center
Charles Trick
(representing MEQ)
Department of Health and Society
University of Toronto
1265 Military Trail
Toronto, ON, M1C 1A4
Pengbin Wang
Second Institute of Oceanography
Ministry of Natural Resources
36 Baochubei Rd.
Hangzhou, Zhejiang, 310012
People’s Republic of China
Mark Wells
Project Science Team Co-Chair
(representing MEQ)
School of Marine Sciences
University of Maine
5741 Libby Hall
Orono, ME, 04469
Alexander Bychkov
PICES Secretariat
9860 West Saanich Road
Sidney, BC, V8L 4B2