Coastal Tribes Help Protect Public Health


jonnette-in-the-waves-for-web3Protecting the health of Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) tribal members and others is the main priority of harmful algal bloom specialist Jonnette Bastian-James.

Like other coastal tribes, QIN is helping to determine when harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur on the coast and how quickly they affect shellfish eaten regularly by Indian and non-Indian harvesters throughout the region.

James, a QIN tribal member, takes seawater samples year-round on five beaches from Ocean Shores north to Kalaloch where razor clams are harvested. Beginning in the spring, when levels of toxins harmful to humans can begin to rise, she increases sampling to twice a week at the beaches.

Back in the Nation’s lab in Taholah, Bastian uses a microscope to count the numbers of the algal plankton, pseudo-nitzschia, the micro-organism that causes domoic acid in shellfish such as razor clams. When there are high numbers or blooms of the organism, it can signal that the levels of domoic acid in razor clams may become toxic to humans, requiring the closure of razor clam harvest. At high levels, domoic acid can sicken or kill humans, though it does not harm the clam.

“By measuring levels of pseudo-nitzschia, we can get a sort of early warning as to whether we’re likely to see harmful levels of domoic acid in razor clams,” said Bastian. When the levels of pseudo-nitzschia rise, Bastian harvests a few razor clams from the beaches to test them for domoic acid levels.

QIN participates in the Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom (ORHAB) partnership created in 1999 to foster collaboration and cooperation among coastal tribes, federal, state and local management agencies, marine resource-based businesses, public interest groups and academic institutions.The ORHAB partnership investigates origins of blooms of toxic algae, monitors where and when the blooms occur, assesses the environmental conditions conducive to blooms, and explores methods to reduce HAB impacts on humans and the environment.

More recently, QIN and members of the ORHAB partnership participated in a West Coast summit meeting on HABs to provide input on creating a coastwide network that would improve the ability to predict HABs as well as pool resources, knowledge and new technologies.

As a QIN tribal member, Bastian’s work is particularly relevant to her. “I was raised on razor clams. My family and ancestors have harvested and eaten razor clams for generations. It’s an important part of our culture. We live off the land.”
Related: Razor Clams Important Culturally and Economically to QINQuinault Indian Nation Protecting Public Health