Vera Trainer, NOAA NWFSC

Vera Trainer deploying a drifter in an oceanographic study of harmful algal blooms on the Washington State Coast
Deploying a drifter in an oceanographic study of HABs on the Washington coast



Oceanographer, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center





Bio: You might say that Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are my thing… I manage the Marine Biotoxin Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, and am the lead investigator of both the SoundToxins partnership, a volunteer-based early warning system for HABs and Vibrio in Puget Sound, and the Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom (ORHAB) program, a regional monitoring effort involving federal, state and local agencies, coastal tribes, and academic institutions. My work also takes me clear across the globe; I often lead international seafood safety training workshops in Guatemala, the Republic of the Philippines, Indonesia, Palau, and India.

I’m really interested in the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of HABs; if we can understand what triggers algal cells to produce toxins, we might be able to better control them. For example, there are some species that always produce low levels of toxin, but certain conditions make them much more toxic. Research expeditions like the 2016 West Coast OA cruise are how we connect the dots between oceanic conditions and toxic blooms.

NOAA NWFSC/UW APL Environmental Sampler
Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and the University of Washington Applied Physics Lab have developed the Environmental Sample Processor, a robot that monitors the water for harmful algal blooms. This one is being deployed in Puget Sound, just north of Seattle. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Stephanie Moore.

Ultimately, we’d like to have access to this kind of information all the time. I’m really excited about a new instrument called the Environmental Sample Processor that will be deployed in the coastal ocean in a few days (May 22!) at the Cha’ba mooring near La Push. “With this particular machine we can monitor both toxic cells and the toxins they produce. We can sit at our desk drinking a cup of coffee and query this machine and ask it, are the cells there? Are they there now? Oh, if they are, okay, take an extra sample because we want to know how serious this is.” [excerpt from Jan 2016 interview broadcast on the NOAA Fisheries podcast ‘On the Line‘].

What I’m doing on this cruise: Technically, my colleague Bill Cochlan and I are ‘landlubbers’ this time around. We’ve sent two scientists from our teams, Brian Bill and Chris Ikeda, to study Pseudo-nitzschia, a marine phytoplankton that was responsible for millions of dollars of losses to west coast economies in 2015 and 2016 through the closure of the lucrative razor clam, Dungeness crab and rock crab fisheries. Brian and Chris are mapping the distribution of Pseudo-nitzschia cells and their toxin domoic acid (DA) from Mexico to Canada, but more importantly, they’re trying to identify the environmental factors (including pH) that make it so successful, especially in a warming ocean. I like to say that if Pseudo-nitzschia could talk, it would say “Global warming and ocean acidification, bring them on!”.