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Satellite data delivers early warning signals for shellfish farmers

Copyright: BeBGraficaDigitale

“We’re shut because of a harmful algal bloom in the waters at the moment. Being shut costs us £25-30,000 a week, and last year we were shut for four months.”

Gary Rawle, a shellfish farmer based around St. Austell, Cornwall, provides quality mussels by the tonne for the seafood industry – supplying many restaurants all over the UK.

However, shellfish businesses like Gary’s are threatened by toxins released from harmful algal blooms – naturally occurring colonies of phytoplankton that prevent the shellfish being harvested – creating toxic effects on livelihoods, consumers and the economy.

BBSRC and NERC joined forces to fund the ShellEye project to help shellfish farmers manage the damaging effects from harmful algal blooms. The ShellEye project is a multi-partner effort that includes industry, government and scientists from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), the University of Exeter, the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

The ShellEye project plans to implement a forecasting system that uses satellite imagery to track harmful algal blooms and help fishermen avoid the worst outbreaks. Currently, various methods are in pilot format which include emails with images, text messages, maps on a web portal and a traffic light system. The ultimate goal for ShellEye is to protect public health, reduce food waste and contribute to the resilience of the UK food system and bioeconomy.

Dr Peter Miller of PML steers ShellEye and is excited by the potential of satellite data to track harmful algal blooms in real-time, and how the data can be analysed, simplified and sent to fishermen in the area.

“We can use very detailed satellite images of the ocean colour to pick out certain algal species that form dense blooms, allowing us to differentiate between the harmful and harmless algae,” Miller explains.

Miller’s confidence comes from a previous project in Scotland with SAMS that helped Scottish salmon farms manage their risks from harmful algal blooms.

Shellfish farmers are keen to have an early warning system in place to make informed decisions on how to manage harvesting operations. To put it simply, Gary Rawle believes “it’s the future.”


Notes to editors

The ShellEye project is one of 21 research projects announced in 2015 (together utilising £5M support from BBSRC and NERC) to improve understanding of the factors affecting sustainable aquaculture, and help build a multidisciplinary community:


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £473 million in world-class bioscience, people and research infrastructure in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.


UK Research and Innovation Media Office

Tags: aquaculture data food security shellfish research BBSRC press release