As our coastline and estuaries become more intensively developed due to population pressures, it will become important to determine if some elements of this development are contributing to increases in HABs. In order to assess trends in HABs, we need to look at historical or past events and attempt to measure whether numbers or intensity of events has increased. Much data have been recorded by the coastal states on levels of marine biotoxins in shellfish. The volume of this data is considerable and in order to analyze this information it must be entered into a marine toxin database. In partnership with NOAA's Environmental Services Data and Information Management (ESDIM) program, the NWFSC HAB program has undertaken to locally enter HAB and Biotoxin data into a more complete oceanic database.
In order to plan for future HAB events, risk managers need to derive guidance from past events. Most states on the west coast that have experienced HABs have records of these events. In some instances, records go back at least 40 to 50 years. Unfortunately, most of these records are usually in printed form and distributed over many locations. Over the years, much of these data have been lost because of the difficulty in storing hard copies of what some consider transient or volatile data. In many cases, it was not considered a high priority to keep this information for use in the future.
What data and reports that did survive should be viewed cautiously. It must be considered that these reports are not really a true, direct record of HABs but are reports of toxin levels in shellfish. Many times these reports were a response to a single particularly serious or extreme event. In some cases, sampling and recording events were increased as a direct result of a particularly significant toxic outbreak. At worst, this inconsistency can lead to a skewed historical perspective. Early HAB monitoring programs were regulatory in nature, and not meant to determine temporal and spatial trends of HAB events. However, with all of these faults, this information is still valuable in gaining an understanding of HABs and developing risk management plans. Therefore, the preservation of these data in a convenient, searchable electronic form is important and valuable.
All of the HAB/marine biotoxin data reside among the various impacted agencies and institutions. These data are archived in a variety of different electronic and hardcopy formats. As the effort required for data assimilation in addition to database development and maintenance is beyond the scope of a single local agency, NOAA's Environmental Services Data and Information Management (ESDIM) program has made an effort to develop such a database for the coastal states at risk from HABs. To facilitate this effort, the NWFSC HAB program has developed contacts among the various risk management agencies in the states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and eastern Canada. Through these contacts we are collecting and entering the records of PSP and domoic acid outbreaks that have occurred on the west coast of the United States.