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An Introduction to Phytoplankton and Harmful Algal Blooms

With recent toxic algae outbreaks and a change in food standard regulations impacting Britain’s aquaculture industry, it’s more important than ever to know what’s happening in the marine environment surrounding your farm and how to identify specific phytoplankton that may impact your business.

PhytoplanktonThis course will introduce you to the primary phytoplankton in the water, along with those which give cause for concern.  We’ll share how you can use that information to monitor your water, gauge when to harvest, and spot certain environmental factors that may lead to harmful algal blooms.

Delivered by leading algae scientists from SAMS (the Scottish Association for Marine Science), this course is a practical introduction from the specialist team that analyses water collected from the shellfish growing areas around Scotland for the Food Standards Agency (FSA).  Be prepared for practical laboratory sessions (and a few Latin names), as we want to ensure you have plenty of practical experience and leave knowing what to look for and how to look for it.

What you’ll learn on this predominantly hands-on course:

Day 1Pseudo-nitzschia culture SMALL

  • An introduction to algae and harmful algal blooms (HABs), including phytoplankton’s place in the food chain and marine ecosystem – and why that matters to you
  • An overview of the official control monitoring programme for the FSA in Scotland
  • An introduction to the key harmful phytoplankton and accumulation of toxins in shellfish, specifically relating to ASP, PSP, DSP and AZP
  • Practical sessions in the laboratory, learning how to examine water samples under a microscope  

Your tutors on Day One are all leading scientists at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the course is led by Sarah Swan; a specialist who has been monitoring phytoplankton at SAMS for the Food Standards Agency since 2005.  These results are reported to FSA Scotland and other relevant parties on a daily basis and contribute to their biotoxin risk assessment strategy.

Day 2 (1pm Finish)

  • Harmful algal blooms, their relationship with environmental factors and current progress in forecasting HABs
  • Practical sessions identifying frequently observed and other harmful species of algae found in UK waters

This course is specifically designed for shellfish producers, processors and regulators wishing to minimise product recalls, reduce financial loss and safeguard human health through an improved understanding of the marine environment, especially with regards to toxic algae.    It is also well suited to undergraduate or postgraduate marine or ecological science students wishing to gain experience in this topic.

Price: £385 (VAT exempt) including all course materials and microscopic tuition.  
Lunch can be brought with you, or purchased in our on-site café and you may want to arrange overnight accommodation in Oban if required.  (This is not included in the course fee.)

Application Information: Please apply for your Phytoplankton ID Course online, by emailing or calling 01631 559000


Sarah Swan is a specialist in the distribution and development of harmful algal blooms.  She is a member of the Microbial and Molecular Biology Department at SAMS and manages the analyses of water samples collected from shellfish growing areas around Scotland, in order to monitor the presence and geographic distribution of potentially toxic phytoplankton.  This monitoring can benefit both human health and the shellfish industry, as harvesting can be avoided when potentially toxic species are present.

Callum Whyte is a member of the Department of Microbial and Molecular Biology and Deputy Manager of the monitoring programme for the presence of toxin producing plankton in Scottish shellfish production areas.  His research interests lie in phytoplankton ecology; specifically those few species that produce bio-toxins. These can easily enter the food chain causing serious illness or death in fish, seabirds, marine mammals and ultimately humans, and may have serious economic implications for the shellfish industry.  He is trying to understand the drivers that lead to blooms of harmful algae, with the eventual goal of developing tools and methods that help to identify and predict their occurrence.   

Professor Keith Davidson is Head of the Microbial and Molecular Biology Department at SAMS.  His research focuses on the response of marine microbes to environmental forcing, with a particular emphasis on coastal marine phytoplankton and, in particular, harmful algae.  Keith is a Member of the NERC Peer Review College, the DEFRA Health and Biologically Diverse Seas Evaluation Group and the ICES Working Group on Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics.

Application Information: Please apply for your Phytoplankton ID Course online, by emailing or calling 01631 559000

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Scottish Marine Institute
Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK
T: +44 (0) 1631 559 000
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