Creating a phytoplankton-fishery observing program for sustaining local communities in Indonesian coastal waters
  • Acronym: FishPhytO
  • Term: June 2023 – March 2026
  • 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, objectives and initiatives

PICES member countries have significant resources for monitoring environmental conditions and fisheries in coastal waters. At the same time developing nations are far more limited in their capacity for collecting data needed to advance their management practices in these waters. Citizen-based monitoring is an approach designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of monitoring efforts when technical and financial resources are not sufficient. There are many successful examples of citizen-based monitoring in developed countries. However, this approach has not been widely applied yet to the collection of environmental and fisheries data in developing nations. Based on such recognition, PICES has conducted two citizen-based monitoring projects funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Japan: “Building capacity for coastal monitoring by local small-scale fishers” (FishGIS: November 2017 – March 2020) and “Building local warning networks for the detection and human dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesian communities” (Ciguatera: April 2020 – March 2023).

The overall objective of the new PICES-MAFF project, entitled “Creating a phytoplankton-fishery observing program for sustaining local communities in Indonesian coastal waters” (FishPhytO), is to establish, in collaboration with local fishers, research institutes and universities, a phytoplankton-fishery observing program in the Lombok Island region (Indonesia) using tools developed and modified/refined during the previous two PICES-MAFF projects (2017–2023) to enable the detection of toxic benthic Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) species that can threaten tropical reef fisheries, and to record images of the fishery catches for enumeration of fish species and sizes. The long-term objectives are to: (1) provide local communities with the capacity and knowledge to sustainably manage their fisheries resources and ensure seafood safety, and (2) identify research needs for deploying these tools in PICES member countries. This 3-year (June 1, 2023 – March 31, 2026) project is funded by MAFF, through the Fisheries Agency of Japan (JFA), from the Official Development Assistance (ODA) Fund.

Benthic 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, and is endemic in many tropical Pacific regions. The effect of CFP on the human dimension extends far beyond the proximate health and economic outcomes – chronically impacted communities in the Pacific region and elsewhere can 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.

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. The project will offer technology-assisted, community-based training that drives community awareness of emerging problems and will foster surveillance and management skills that can reduce the incidence of illness. Three levels of surveillance can engage communities in the maintenance of a healthy environment: the health of the corals, the biology of the benthic species, and the harvesting of potentially contaminated fish to the community.

Four long-term goals guide this project. First, consumers will come to rely on information from local communities and researchers about benthic HABs when purchasing marine goods or services. Secondly, the socio-economic basis of local communities will gain resilience by not depending on products with CFP risks. Thirdly, coral reef health, and signals of declining health, are better understood by developing countries. Through these capacity-building goals, coastal Indonesian communities can be sustainably improved, with less uncertainties and risks from CFP and degradation of coral ecosystems. The fourth long-term goal, and most directly relevant to PICES, is that lessons learned in this project inform and benefit PICES member countries facing the emergence of climate-driven benthic range extension of HAB species into their marine systems.

The project is proposed to focus on the following major initiatives:

  1. Provide a scientific basis to inform local communities about the influence of benthic HABs on their sustainable use of marine resources. This will be underpinned by developing a database from coastal ecosystem monitoring activities by local fishers and community members to detect ecosystems changes.
  2. Develop automated image analysis strategies for quantifying fisheries-relevant information from image analysis of the smartphone application data collections. These data will be combined with known benthic HAB toxin vectors to inform risk assessments.
  3. Detect the presence of toxin-containing dinoflagellates in the reef environment using two complimentary approaches: (a) implementation of smartphone and internet-capable automated microscope and species identification tools developed during the previous PICES-MAFF projects, and (b) employing internationally-standardized sampling protocols for toxic benthic algae.
  4. Training of community members to utilize these tools and collected data in local decision-making on coastal fisheries regions to avoid the transfer of contaminated fish from the damaged environment to the tables of families until the presence of CFP toxin-containing dinoflagellates is minimized.
To support these primary initiatives, annual capacity building workshops, led by scientists from PICES member countries, will be held in Indonesia. The purpose of the workshops is to work with local communities to increase the sustainability of their fishing resources by providing them with CFP information. The combination of training and citizen-science contributions in the project is expected to: (1) generate the needed capacity for monitoring CFP hotspots in Indonesian waters, (2) provide valuable datasets for the study of Gambierdiscus, Fukuyoa and other toxic benthic algae, along with the factors controlling their abundance in reef systems, and (3) increase human wellness by identifying fishing regions where the health of community members is at risk.

Besides the primary initiatives, four secondary initiatives will be explored during the project: (1) deploying several new low-cost compact, internet-capable flow-through microscope systems for rapid detection and quantification of pelagic and benthic phytoplankton, (2) developing image analysis libraries for rapid automated identification of toxic species within the generated datasets, (3) modifying the FishGIS smartphone application with preliminary steps towards artificial intelligence-based assessment of fish stock from the collective fish catch data reported by community members, and (4) refining the incorporation of the tsunami early warning notification component of the smartphone application to better communicate the relevant dangers to these remote fishing communities.

Project organization and funding

The request to undertake the FishPhytO project has been approved by PICES Governing Council at their inter-sessional meeting in May 2023. The project principles agreed to by MAFF/JFA and PICES can be found here.

The project is expected to have 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 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 serves as the parent committee for the project.

To direct the project, a Project Science Team (PST) has been formed by Science Board based on principles and procedures detailed in the PICES Policy for approval and management of special projects (Decision 2017/A/7), with membership as recommended by relevant scientific and technical committees (see the membership below). Considering the focus of the new project, HD and MEQ have decided to nominate several members. As there are strong links between the FishPhytO project and the previous two PICES-MAFF projects: FishGIS (2017–2020) and Ciguatera (2020–2023), the majority of FishPhytO PST members were involved in one or in both of these projects. As the leading Indonesian collaborators are also those who participated in the previous PICES-MAFF projects, retaining this core group is important to facilitate efficient implementation of the FishPhytO project. Selection of Dr. Mitsutaku Makino (HD Chair, Japan) and Dr. Mark Wells (S-HAB Co-Chair, USA) as FishPhytO PST Co-Chairs warrants the desirable geographical balance and the balance of expertise between the human dimension and HAB components of the project. The PST Co-Chairs 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 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 2023, ending March 31, 2024) is set at $73,813.

Project support in Indonesia

The collaboration PICES scientists have developed with the Indonesian government agencies and research institutions during four PICES-MAFF projects conducted in the period from 2007 to 2023 – “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), “Building capacity for coastal monitoring by local small-scale fishers” (2017–2020; FishGIS), and “Building local warning networks for the detection and human dimension of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning in Indonesian communities” (2020–2023; Ciguatera) – provides a strong foundation for the FishPhytO project. Connecting with such organizations in a developing country is critical for facilitating and advancing a project – these organizations and key people are needed to understand the project and to translate it into the local context.

The National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia (BRIN) has been our major partner since the Ciguatera project (previous major partners, the Indonesian Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), are now integrated into BRIN). In addition, PICES has established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU, signed in March 2022) with the Institute of Technology of Indonesia (ITI), with the goal of integrating both faculty expertise and student involvement into the project to enhance its longer-term sustainability. ITI’s focus on the application of technology across environmental science and industry is well suited as a framework for supporting the current and future PICES-MAFF projects in Indonesia. Multiple cooperation agreements among Indonesian national and local government agencies and universities signed during a Ciguatera project’s community training and knowledge dissemination workshop in January 2023 in Lombok have also strengthened support for collaborative research with PICES and the sustainability of the observation network after the project is completed.

In addition, the Provincial Government of West Nusa Tenggara, which provided invaluable assistance in organizing the January 2023 workshop, has indicated strong interest in implementing the FishPhytO project. This support is essential for sustaining the planned observation and response activities after completion of the project.

Meetings and Events
  • Second PST meeting (October 20, 2023, in conjunction with PICES-2023 in Seattle, USA)
    Group Photo 1, Group Photo 2
    Objectives: (1) to analyse the outcomes of the July 2023 activities in Indonesia, (2) to assess the current state of data collection in the Lombok/Gili Matra region and the development of a feasible sampling program in Indonesia, (3) to review the updates in the FishGIS smartphone application, and (4) to discuss a workplan for the rest of Year 1 and for Year 2 of the project.
    • Mitsutaku Makino (PST Co-Chair; AORI, Japan)
      Report of the PICES-MAFF Ciguatera project and introduction to the PICES-MAFF FishPhytO project
    • Suhendar I Sachoemar (BRIN, Indonesia)
      Data collection (phytoplankton, HydroColour, FishGIS)
    • Shion Takemura (FRA, Japan)
      FishGIS smartphone application update
  • Second PST meeting summary

  • First PST meeting (July 8, 2023; Lombok, Indonesia)
    Objectives: (1) to review the outcomes of the July 2023 training workshop in Lombok, Indonesia, and (2) to discuss a workplan for Year 1 of the project in order to set up a logistically feasible sampling program for benthic phytoplankton and fisheries in the Lombok/Gili Matra region so that data collection can begin early in the project.
  • First PST meeting summary

  • Training/capacity building workshop (July 5–7, 2023; Lombok, Indonesia)
    Objectives: (1) 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 (2) to communicate the consequence of changes to the marine resources on the community fishers.

    In order to align this training/capacity building with a local-based sampling program for both benthic phytoplankton and local fisheries that can continue on a regular basis, the workshop focus was on local University students, along with local community members, who are willing to implement sample collections and analysis.

  • General lecture on “Creating a phytoplankton-fishery observing program for sustaining local communities in Indonesian coastal waters” (July 4, 2023; ITI (Institut Teknologi Indonesia) Campus, Serpong, South Tangerang, Indonesia)
    Objective: through a series of lectures by FishPhytO PST members, to disseminate information about fisheries management and the hazards of benthic harmful algal blooms in Indonesian coastal areas, and to communicate the project background, principles and goals to the broad audience that includes students, scientists and engineers from academia, research institutions and industry.
    • Mark Wells (PST Co-Chair; University of Maine, USA)
      Introduction to PlanktoScope
    • Shion Takemura (FRA, Japan)
      Smartphone applications (FishGIS, HydroColor)
    • Naoki Tojo (Hokkaido University, Japan)
      Practical approaches for research and assessment in data-poor/limited situation with fisheries communities
    • Charles Trick (University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada)
      PICES: Public Health and Social Aspects
    • Arief Rachman (BRIN) et al.
      Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and Ciguatera Indonesia Studies in Lombok

Annual Progress Reports (PR)
Annual Financial Reports (FR)
Media Coverage
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
(representing MEQ)
South Sea Research Institute
Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology
41 Jangmok-1-gil, Jangmok-myon Geoje, 5320
Republic of Korea
Vladimir Kulik
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
Moonho Son
(representing MEQ)
JNational Institute of Fisheries Science
216 Gijanghaean-ro, Gijang-eup, Gijang-gun
Busan, 46083
Republic of Korea
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)
Olympic Natural Resources Center
University of Washington
1455 S. Forks Ave., Forks, WA 98331
Charles Trick
(representing MEQ)
Institute for Inclusive Health and Well-Being
University of Toronto
1265 Military Trail
Toronto, ON, M1C 1A4
Pengbin Wang
(representing MEQ)
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