A team from the Cawthron Institute in New Zealand is working closely with the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) and Kōrero O Te `Ōrau to tackle the issue of ciguatera in the Cook Islands. Photo: TWITTER / CAWTHRON INSTITUTE
A team from the Cawthron Institute in New Zealand is working closely with the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) and Kōrero O Te `Ōrau to tackle the issue of ciguatera in the Cook Islands.
MMR senior marine ecologist and fisheries officer Phoebe Argyle said the Cawthron team were in Rarotonga for two weeks where they continued their ongoing work on ciguatera and methods of detecting the toxin-producing microalgae gambierdiscus in the environment.
She said marine scientists Charlee Maclean and herself
assisted the Cawthron team collecting
samples in Rarotonga where artificial substrates and resin toxin-trackers were
used to collect microalgae and detect toxins around the Rarotonga lagoon.
Live samples of microalgae were also collected to look
for new toxin producing species.
“During their trip they collected
samples from Mangaia and Rarotonga. In collaboration with MMR they will also be
analysing samples from Mitiaro and Aitutaki, with further sampling being done
as part of MMR’s routine marine surveys.
“It is hoped that there will be an
ongoing relationship between Cawthron and
the Cook Islands to continue valuable ciguatera research.”
She said these samples will be analysed
using methods that detect toxin producing species by looking for their DNA
within a sample.
Argyle said this is an important step in
ciguatera research as the toxic and non-toxic microalgae look the same under
“DNA based methods are constantly becoming
cheaper and more accessible, thus it is hoped that these kinds of tools could
be used for monitoring around the Pacific in the near future.”
She said this research is important for
the Cook Islands because ciguatera is a common occurrence here, and at present
there is no method for testing seafood or effectively monitoring microalgae
concentrations in order to predict higher ciguatera risk.
“Predicting ciguatera risk from
microalgae concentrations is still challenging as the time lag between a microalgae
bloom and fish is difficult to quantify, however with ongoing research it is
hoped that this phenomena will be better understood.”
She added that Cawthron has worked with MMR in the past on giant
clam aquaculture with staff training at Cawthron Institute
The team also came to Rarotonga in
2014 to conduct ciguatera research, during which they found two new
species of Gambierdiscus.
institute’s project leader Dr Kirsty Smith said they are working with Dr Teina
Rongo of Kōrero O Te `Ōrau and MMR to investigate the species
gambierdiscus - responsible for ciguatera poisoning.
they are trying to determine its geographical distributions, environmental
preferences and toxicity.
said they hoped to develop simple and rapid tools to reduce costs for
monitoring programmes and increase confidence in ciguatera risk assessments –
reducing the number of illnesses.
said apart from samples collected from Mangaia and Rarotonga last year
December, they have further received samples from Mitiaro and Aitutaki.