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University of the Highlands and Islands PhD student Solène Giraudeau-Potel and Dr Callum Whyte of SAMS with the FlowCytobot.

Seafood Shetland has received a grant of £54,328 from the Coastal Communities Fund for a cutting-edge scientific initiative to support the early detection of harmful algal blooms. The fund, distributed by Shetland Islands Council, is supported by the net revenue generated from Scottish Crown Estate marine assets.

Ruth Henderson, chief executive of Seafood Shetland, said: “We are delighted to receive the funds which will enable us, through our partnership with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the NAFC Marine Centre UHI, to gather important data from a new robotic research tool that can identify phytoplankton in a water sample by simply taking its picture. The state-of-the-art technology will give us an early warning of harmful algal blooms forming in the water, which presents a major threat to our finfish and shellfish aquaculture industry.”

Scientists from SAMS and Shetland’s NAFC Marine Centre UHI will deploy the FlowCytobot system at two sites on the west coast of Shetland. Any presence and density of phytoplankton most commonly associated with harmful algal blooms will be detected early.

The team is led by Prof Keith Davidson from SAMS: “This is a potential game changer in the quest for harmful algal bloom forecasting tools,” he said.

“The FlowCytobot uses similar technology to the facial recognition software used in security and in smartphones. This will only be the fifth of its kind deployed in Europe and the first in the UK.”

Ruth Henderson continued: “The captured data will be transferred to the existing weekly risk assessment bulletins, which will summarise current risk and provide a more informed forecast for the following week. This will be disseminated directly to registered aquaculture businesses including Seafood Shetland members and interested stakeholders.

“We are particularly pleased to secure funds to support the aquaculture industry, which is the biggest contributor to the Crown Estate through its levies on sea farms.

“Seafood Shetland wish to thank Shetland Islands Council for supporting this project.”