How do you detect HABs?
"Using what’s called an Imaging FlowCytobot, we continuously monitor phytoplankton populations. Our sentinel point is Port Aransas, because so much water from the Gulf of Mexico flows through there. As water passes through it, the cytobot records images of the phytoplankton, which are sent to shore for computer analysis every 20 minutes. The computer then uses a program similar to facial recognition software. It identifies and counts the different species of phytoplankton to detect HABs."
What happens once an HAb is detected?
"When toxin-producing phytoplankton begin to proliferate, we let the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) know so it can sample oysters in affected areas. If toxin levels reach a certain threshold, they close fisheries and beaches until levels drop. We also provide an early warning system to the state to help prevent illness as a result of shellfish consumption. Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning can result in severe gastrointestinal upset and sensory processing problems. People aren’t likely to die, but they can become very ill. We have provided early warning for seven HAB events, and no human illnesses have been reported."
Why is this important?
"We can detect HABs a month before anyone falls ill. This saves money for the DSHS, as it only has to test shellfish when we alert them. It also helps the fishing industry, because consumers have more confidence in their products. Finally, it protects beachgoers because some toxin-producing plankton can affect air quality on the coast and cause respiratory distress.
The other great thing about the data we collect is that images are archived over years, meaning they can serve as points of reference in new research questions. We’ve never had this kind of ocean archive before. It will be useful as we study the effects of climate change."
"We hope to deploy another Imaging FlowCytobot near Freeport and improve monitoring on the Texas coast. Based on our success, other U.S. researchers want to use this technology. I am working with researchers in the state of California to set up a system in the San Francisco Bay area. Other nations, such as Finland and Japan, also employ this technology."
the William R. Bryant OCEANOGRAPHY Chair
Campbell is the first female chair holder in the College of Geosciences and the first holder of the Bryant Oceanography Chair. Named in honor of William Bryant, a longtime professor in the college, the chair was funded through a $1 million gift endowed by 20 of his former students.
During the course of his 53-year teaching career, Bryant chaired countless masters and doctoral committees, taught numerous graduate-level courses and published broadly on topics ranging from the geology of the Gulf of Mexico to marine archaeology. Though he’s now retired, his legacy at Texas A&M continues in Campbell’s work.
Les Shephard '77, a former student of Bryant's, describes him as a brilliant but humble mentor who loved his students and cared deeply about Texas A&M. “He touched each of us in a remarkable way and served as a role model for the tenets embodied in the spirit of Aggieland,” he said. Shephard was so inspired by Bryant that he honored his former professor with something even more meaningful than an endowed chair: He also named his son, Bryant ’05, after him.