HABViet Project
1999-2001, 2001-2004, and 2005-2008

Background: Almost 100 algal species are now known or suspected to produce toxins, and both the frequency, intensity, and geographical distribution of the harmful algal blooms (HAB) appear to have increased over the last few decades. Many blooms have severe ecological and socio-economic impact as they may cause damage or be fatal to other flora and fauna including human beings. Five human syn-dromes are presently caused by consumption of seafood contaminated by algal toxins, and particularly paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) which can be fatal to humans, and ciguatera are widespread in the tropics. Algal toxins accumulated in seafood products are not destroyed by cooking. In addition to serious health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated seafood, some toxic algal species produce hemolytic toxins with devastating effects on fish, both in the wild and in aquacultures with major economic losses for the aquaculture industry. Monitoring and control of  algal toxins in seafood is now recognized as an important issue by the authorities in most countries including Vietnam.

In the recent years, seafood has been the third- fourth most important trade export product, and the value is expected to increase even further according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries. Artisanal mussel fishery and large scale aquaculture for export markets is particularly important in the Southern Provinces of Vietnam, where there is a long tradition for exploiting species such as e.g. Chlamys nobilis, Modiolus philippinus, and Meretrix lyrata. Molluscs represent a possible growth industry and major export markets include Thailand, Singapore, Japan and the EU.
Vietnam has high priority national plans for the development of the aquaculture industry. The Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries (MOFI) is developing the aqua-culture sector through the newly established National Fisheries Extension Centre. Three Danida funded initiatives are contributing to this strategy. One of them is SEAQIP, the Seafood Quality Improvement Project within the National Fisheries Inspection and Quality Assurance Centre (NAFIQACEN), through which the monitoring system for bivavles was established. Until recently, the lack of appropriate monitoring programmes, including monitoring of harmful algae, to control the safety of the seafood products called a closure upon export to the EU. In the spring of 2000 the monitoring programme established with Danish support by NAFIQACEN, was approved by the EU and the export has now been resumed. NAFIQACEN staff attended training courses in Vietnam and Denmark, and participated in the training activities organized during Phase I of HABViet.
Support for Brackish Water and Marine Aqua culture (SUMA) is one of the elements of the larger Fisheries Sector Programme Support established between Vietnam and Denmark. The strong focus on development of aqua culture makes it foreseeable that there will be a future demand for scientific experts in harmful algae for both research and monitoring purposes. MOFI has very recently appointed NIO to monitor for toxic algae in the Binh Tuan Province on behalf of Hai Nam Co. Ltd. The Company wishes to introduce a new bivalve species, Argopecten irradias, from China to replace the decreasing stocks of the traditionally exploited species Chlamys nobilis, and the monitoring is a requirement to the company before introduction of the new crop species in Binh Thuan waters is permitted. Hai Nam Co. Ltd. is receiving DANIDA support to improve sea food processing techniques.

International or regional organizations are also conducting activities on, or in relation to, harmful algae and algal toxins in Vietnam and South East Asia, e.g. under the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The activities are in their beginning only, but a regional network of institutions is planned in order to establish common regulations and analysis procedures for  seafood safety and algal toxins respectively. NIO is also part of the ASEAN Red Tide Alert Network. In 1999 a cooperation agreement between UNESCO and Vietnam was established, and this identifies as a priority specialized training for scientists in the prevention of harmful algal blooms.
Harmful algae is not only a problem in relation to fisheries resources, but also to the exploitation of surface water reservoirs as drinking water. Blooms of cyanobacteria occur widespread in both temperate and tropical freshwater. These algae may produce both neuro- and hepatotoxins, and the cyanobacterial toxins are now recognized by the environmental authorities in many countries as a human health issue. According to Institute of Tropical Biology, HCMC, 70% of the population of HCMC and surroundings (approx. 8 mill. people) receive their drinking water supply from 3 large freshwater reservoirs. The presence of cyanobacterial toxins in drinking water in Vietnam has not yet been investigated, but cyanobacteria blooms have been recorded in the reservoirs around HCMC.

HABViet Project, Phase 1 1999-2001
During phase I, the involved scientists of all partner institutions have obtained a thorough taxonomic knowledge of harmful algae. With this background, It is planned during phase II to develop different expertise at the different institutions depending on their research interests, capacity, and relevance to a sustainable development and exploitation of natural resources (aqua culture and drinking water). The focus will be as follows:

1) NIO is the national focal point for HAB studies, taxonomy is further strengthened with focus on naked flagellates and dinoflagellates, toxicological and ecological studies are initiated during Phase II. The HABViet Project will continue to enhance the ability of NIO in providing data to the regional APEC and ASEAN network and to interact better with colleagues in the surrounding countries.
2) HIO will focus on further development of the taxonomic expertise in order to function as HAB expert centre for the northern part of the country.
3) ITB will maintain the expertise in identification of harmful diatoms together with HUS. ITB will carry out a pilot project to survey the occurrence of potentially toxic blue-green algae in freshwater reservoirs.
4) HUS will cooperate with ITB on identification of harmful diatoms, but focus on curriculum building with emphasis on HAB. Strengthening of the teaching capacity in Hue will enhance the possibilities of educating HAB experts nationally.


HABViet Project, Phase 2 2002-2005
Research strategy, work plan and schedule for activities

Research strategy. The strategy for Phase II will focus on three themes: 1) Survey and Autecological studies. 2) Long term capacity building. 3) Dissemination of results and public awareness.

The coastal waters at the border of the Nghe An – Ha Tinh Provinces and Kien Giang Province will be surveyed for the occurrence, distribution and abundance of potentially toxic algal species. The areas have been identified by the Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries and the Danish Fisheries Sector Programme/SUMA for near future aqua culture development. The sampling programme will be linked to existing environmental monitoring programmes and to other investigations carried out by NAFIQACEN to assess the potential for aqua culture in the selected areas. The result of the surveys may be used as a tool in future development of a sustainable aqua culture industry. The harmful species encountered during the survey will be isolated into cultures where possible. This will allow detailed autecological studies including toxicity of selected algal species, and toxin accumulation and de-toxification of shellfish. Phase II will also encompass a pilot survey of potentially toxic cyanobacteria in drinking water reservoirs around HCMC. The tools and expertise for this has been partly established during Phase I, and might generate potential for a separate future research area for ITB.
Long term investment in teaching and research capacity within HAB and marine phytoplankton in general botany will be addressed through an upgrading of the teaching facilities at HUS combined with a cooperation agreement between HUS and NIO concerning a PhD programme. The teaching laboratories at HUS will be renovated and supplied with modern equipment. The participating research laboratories which were not upgraded with research equipment in Phase I will be so during Phase II. This will also include a continued up-grading of the existing library facilities with a selection of classical and modern literature on phytoplankton and toxic algae.
Phase II will also pay attention to dissemination of results to the public. It is proposed to prepare an exhibition on marine plankton including harmful algae, their ecological role, and related research at NIO as part of the permanent exhibition at the National Oceanographic Museum at NIO. The target group is school children, students, the general public, and tourists. The museum has more than 120.000 visitors per year. The section presenting research activities at NIO addresses the significant number of  visiting scientists, administrators, politicians, international delegations, guests, etc. The text will be in Vietnamese and English (French to be considered if relevant). Agreement has been made between the NIO, PRP and Danmarks Akvarium for cooperation in the establishment of the new exhibit. The exhibition will be prepared in Vietnam by NIO staff and local artists.

Phase II thus consists of 3 activity modules:
Survey and Autecological studies, Phase II
* Survey of harmful marine microalgae in two areas identified for aquaculture developmen
* Autecological and toxicological studies of selected toxic algal species.
* Toxin accumulation and de-toxification of selected species of shellfish

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