HABscope: A tool for use by citizen scientists to facilitate early warning of respiratory irritation caused by toxic blooms of Karenia brevis
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HABscope: A tool for use by citizen scientists to facilitate early warning of respiratory irritation caused by toxic blooms of Karenia brevis
  • Published Date:

    2019

  • Source:
    PLOS ONE, 14(6), e0218489.
Filetype[PDF-1.73 MB]


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  • Description:
    Blooms of the toxic microalga Karenia brevis occur seasonally in Florida, Texas and other portions of the Gulf of Mexico. Brevetoxins produced during Karenia blooms can cause neurotoxic shellfish poisoning in humans, massive fish kills, and the death of marine mammals and birds. Brevetoxin-containing aerosols are an additional problem, having a severe impact on beachgoers, triggering coughing, eye and throat irritation in healthy individuals, and more serious respiratory distress in those with asthma or other breathing disorders. The blooms and associated aerosol impacts are patchy in nature, often affecting one beach but having no impact on an adjacent beach. To provide timely information to visitors about which beaches are low-risk, we developed HABscope; a low cost (~$400) microscope system that can be used in the field by citizen scientists with cell phones to enumerate K. brevis cell concentrations in the water along each beach. The HABscope system operates by capturing short videos of collected water samples and uploading them to a central server for rapid enumeration of K. brevis cells using calibrated recognition software. The HABscope has a detection threshold of about 100,000 cells, which is the point when respiratory risk becomes evident. Higher concentrations are reliably estimated up to 10 million cells L-1. When deployed by volunteer citizen scientists, the HABscope consistently distinguished low, medium, and high concentrations of cells in the water. The volunteers were able to collect data on most days during a severe bloom. This indicates that the HABscope can provide an effective capability to significantly increase the sampling coverage during Karenia brevis blooms.
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