Research fellow helps Kodiak address harmful algal blooms

Two women in a lab looking at a computer
Marine biologist Lynn Wilking (left) and research fellow Mekia Bushell preparing to test a sample for toxins related to paralytic shellfish poisoning. Photo by Julie Matweyou/Alaska Sea Grant.

Mekia Bushell is a post-baccalaureate research fellow working with the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Harmful Algal Bloom Forecasting Branch and is serving her appointment at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center (KSMSC). Alaska Sea Grant and NCCOS have a long-standing partnership investigating and mitigating the impacts of harmful algal blooms in the Kodiak region. Her fellowship is funded through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and she is mentored by Steve Kibler of the NOAA Beaufort Lab and KSMSC’s Julie Matweyou.

Woman at the edge of boat away from the coast, deploying a net device for collecting water samples.
Mekia Bushell collecting phytoplankton samples in Chiniak Bay, Kodiak, Alaska. Photo by Julie Matweyou/Alaska Sea Grant.

Mekia joined the KSMSC team this summer to increase harmful algal bloom (HABs) forecasting and paralytic shellfish toxin monitoring capacities in Kodiak. Her research is primarily focused on oceanographic monitoring and toxin testing. Mekia performs weekly phytoplankton sampling and shellfish toxin monitoring at multiple traditional harvesting sites on Kodiak Island. 

Mekia assisted in assessing the distribution of Alexandrium catenella, the species responsible for producing paralytic shellfish toxins, in surveys across Chiniak Bay. This work is the first of several planned surveys to better understand bloom dynamics and inform HAB modeling and forecasting in the Kodiak region.

An additional focus of Mekia’s research is to expand KSMSC laboratory capacity and conduct toxin analyses on Kodiak shellfish. She will also travel to the East Coast this fall to train at the NOAA Beaufort Lab.

Mekia is interested in marine ecology and the links between ecosystem health and human health. Her academic research has included investigating the effects of photo-enhanced toxicity of dispersed and burned crude oil and the sublethal physiological impacts of paralytic shellfish toxins on Alaska blue mussels. Results of this metabolomics study were published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Microscope image of phytoplankton
Phytoplankton seen through a microscope. Photo by Mekia Bushell.

She is excited to be back in Kodiak where she grew up, engaging in research that has implications for seafood safety and public health. In addition to her fellowship, she is a paralytic shellfish poisoning project coordinator for the Knik Tribal Council and an supplemental instructor for human anatomy and physiology at the University of Alaska.

Mekia earned a bachelor’s in biological sciences from the University of Alaska Anchorage and graduated from an multi-year, NIH-funded biomedical research program in May 2022. Next year, she has plans to attend graduate school for marine ecology and toxicology.

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