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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesUVI’s Tyler Smith Gets Ciguatera Grant

UVI’s Tyler Smith Gets Ciguatera Grant

Tyler Smith, a research assistant professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, recently received a $554,159 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to continue a ciguatera study that began in 2008. The grant was announced Monday by NOAA and runs for five years.

“It’s at four reef sites on the south side of St. Thomas,” Smith said.

The UVI grant is part of $4 million, five-year grant to scientists researching the causes of Ciguatera fish poisoning, the most common form of algal toxin-induced seafood poisoning in the world found in primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

“We don’t understand all of the environmental mechanisms,” Smith said of one of the reasons for the study.

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According to a NOAA press release, Ciguatera affects tens of thousands of people annually, but the occurrence has been impossible to predict and manage. The research project could lead to better predictions of ciguatera outbreaks.

“Ciguatera is of great concern to people who prefer or depend on reef fish in their diets,” Michael Parsons, professor of marine science and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University, said. “Anything we can do to lessen illnesses by reducing the exposure to the toxins that cause ciguatera would be a great benefit to the consumer.”

Parsons is the team leader for the entire project. In addition to Smith, other scientists hail from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, the University of South Alabama, the University of Veracruz, Mexico, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory.

Tyler and a team of four to six UVI students started this latest phase of the study in October 2011. They head out monthly to evaluate the reef conditions and take samples. Smith said those samples are sent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for evaluation.

Smith said this is the first time any agency has been able to take samples on a monthly basis. Most other coral reef study sites only get a yearly evaluation.

By looking at the reefs on a monthly basis, Smith and his students are able to monitor the health of the corals by evaluating whether there are more or less corals than in previous months, whether the algae has increased, and evaluate seasonal changes in the reefs.

They’re sampling for Gambier discus, the micro algae that lives on reefs and creates Gambier toxin. Smith said the toxin is ingested by reef fish, such as parrot and surgeon fish, as well as invertebrates. The toxin changes into ciguatera toxin in their bodies and, in turn, they are eaten by larger fish, which can then transmit ciguatera to the people who eat them.

The sampling poses challenges and takes two days a month for the teams to visit the four reefs.

“Any time you go out in the field, it takes a big effort. You’re diving, boating…,” he said, listing some of the tasks associated with marine research.

Smith said St. Thomas and St. John fish have more ciguatera than those on St. Croix.

“The south shelf tends to see more ciguatera,” he said.

He said he doesn’t have figures on how many cases of ciguatera develop every year in the Virgin Islands, but said that fish caught by recreational fishermen seem to have it more than those caught by commercial fishermen because they’re more knowledgeable about where to fish.

“They look out for their consumers,” he said.

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Tyler Smith, a research assistant professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, recently received a $554,159 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to continue a ciguatera study that began in 2008. The grant was announced Monday by NOAA and runs for five years.

“It’s at four reef sites on the south side of St. Thomas,” Smith said.

The UVI grant is part of $4 million, five-year grant to scientists researching the causes of Ciguatera fish poisoning, the most common form of algal toxin-induced seafood poisoning in the world found in primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

“We don’t understand all of the environmental mechanisms,” Smith said of one of the reasons for the study.

According to a NOAA press release, Ciguatera affects tens of thousands of people annually, but the occurrence has been impossible to predict and manage. The research project could lead to better predictions of ciguatera outbreaks.

“Ciguatera is of great concern to people who prefer or depend on reef fish in their diets,” Michael Parsons, professor of marine science and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University, said. “Anything we can do to lessen illnesses by reducing the exposure to the toxins that cause ciguatera would be a great benefit to the consumer.”

Parsons is the team leader for the entire project. In addition to Smith, other scientists hail from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, the University of South Alabama, the University of Veracruz, Mexico, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory.

Tyler and a team of four to six UVI students started this latest phase of the study in October 2011. They head out monthly to evaluate the reef conditions and take samples. Smith said those samples are sent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for evaluation.

Smith said this is the first time any agency has been able to take samples on a monthly basis. Most other coral reef study sites only get a yearly evaluation.

By looking at the reefs on a monthly basis, Smith and his students are able to monitor the health of the corals by evaluating whether there are more or less corals than in previous months, whether the algae has increased, and evaluate seasonal changes in the reefs.

They’re sampling for Gambier discus, the micro algae that lives on reefs and creates Gambier toxin. Smith said the toxin is ingested by reef fish, such as parrot and surgeon fish, as well as invertebrates. The toxin changes into ciguatera toxin in their bodies and, in turn, they are eaten by larger fish, which can then transmit ciguatera to the people who eat them.

The sampling poses challenges and takes two days a month for the teams to visit the four reefs.

“Any time you go out in the field, it takes a big effort. You’re diving, boating…,” he said, listing some of the tasks associated with marine research.

Smith said St. Thomas and St. John fish have more ciguatera than those on St. Croix.

“The south shelf tends to see more ciguatera,” he said.

He said he doesn’t have figures on how many cases of ciguatera develop every year in the Virgin Islands, but said that fish caught by recreational fishermen seem to have it more than those caught by commercial fishermen because they’re more knowledgeable about where to fish.

“They look out for their consumers,” he said.