Monitoring Group: Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR)

Geographic focus: Southeast Alaska, Kodiak, Southcentral Alaska

Description: The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA), founder of Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research  (SEATOR), has a vested interest in protecting traditional natural resources as well as the health of the local community. SEATOR was formed in September 2013 to unify 16 southeast Alaska tribes in monitoring harmful algal bloom (HAB) events that pose a human health risk to subsistence  harvesters. With “eyes on the water” actively monitoring sites within their communities, Tribes can establish subsistence management plans, and continue the cultural importance of shellfish harvesting.  Each Tribal partner collects weekly phytoplankton and water samples at key community harvest, qualitatively assessing the abundance of target genera and uploading all observations, including salinity, sea, and air temperature, to a central database. Tribal partners also collect bi-weekly shellfish samples to be tested for biotoxins, or more frequent samples whenever target phytoplankton genera are present. The phytoplankton and environmental parameter data are uploaded to the SEATOR database and are used as an “early warning” by researchers, managers, and community partners. Shellfish and whole water samples are sent to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Laboratory (STAERL) for toxin analysis. STAERL uses the receptor binding assay (AOAC Method 2011.27) for measuring saxitoxins. With new emerging toxins being detected in Alaska such as domoic acid , STAERL is in the process of setting up a high-performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometer (HPLC MS) to add additional analytical capacity to the program.

All shellfish samples are processed and analyzed within a 48 hour period and results are posted to the SEATOR webpage (seator.org/data). Results are also emailed out to all SEATOR partners, local and state health officials, resource managers, and university staff. If detected toxin levels are above the regulatory limit of 80µg/100g or a SEATOR partner site is observing HAB species in their phytoplankton sample, a shellfish harvest advisory is issued by SEATOR and the local Tribe for the affected community. STAERL was developed to support subsistence harvest efforts but is also available to provide services to researchers and the commercial shellfish industry.

Primary contact people:
Chris Whitehead, chris.whitehead@sitkatribe-nsn.gov
Esther Kennedy, esther.kennedy@sitkatribe-nsn.gov

Links: seator.org    email: seator@sitkatribe-nsn.gov

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