The WATCH Project was imagined during a 2016 marine biotoxin workshop, held in the aftermath of a multi-year marine heat wave (“The Blob”), where domoic acid-producing phytoplankton blooms led to widespread shellfish harvest area closures and many other seafood safety and security challenges. When filter-feeding shellfish, plankton-eating fishes, and other species ingest and accumulate the domoic acid toxin, this can lead to Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning; similarly, HABs that produce saxitoxins may cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, and HABs that produce Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxins lead to Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning. Due to climate change, these harmful blooms are expected to increase in frequency, duration, and intensity in a warming world.
Since the Blob, the BC coast has experienced a series of catastrophic climate-related events affecting marine food species. These include, but are not limited to, a major heat dome in June 2021, wildfires and flooding in the same year, HABs which caused widespread shellfish harvest area closures in late October 2022, and drought, which left salmon waiting in pools and estuaries until rains arrived in November 2022. Ocean acidification is also a significant and present threat in this region. Beyond biotoxins, seafood safety concerns with climate elements include Vibrio spp. and norovirus outbreaks.
To understand these various issues, the BCCDC and the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH) developed two evidence briefs as part of a literature review. These organizations continue to be essential partners in creating science-based communications and disseminating information arising from the project. In addition, to further inform the project’s outputs, WATCH compiles information on regional climate-related ocean conditions, hazards, and their impacts; and develops species backgrounders examining exposures, sensitivities and adaptive capacities of marine species that are important to First Nations.