I harvest shellfish on public beaches and am a frequent user of a Shellfish Safety Map, where the DOH publishes marine biotoxin data. Since this work was completed for a course, I proposed to my team that we reach out to the DOH. This project satisfied my curiosity about where the data about marine biotoxins originates.
Simply put, staff collect, label, package, and restock mussels for testing. Mussels are used as a sentinel species to indicate biotoxin levels in the water and in other shellfish. For miles of shoreline around the state, the DOH manages hundreds of test sites with help from volunteers and public agencies.
Mussel samples are sent to the lab to be tested for biotoxins every two weeks, often via Greyhound bus! Results are then shared with the Shellfish Safety team on a data management software. But if samples are "hot," they phone in the results immediately.
Once the Shellfish Safety team decides to close a site based on lab data, they work quickly to alert the public, including commercial shellfish companies, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and managers of public shellfish beaches. They also update the public online biotoxin map. Timeliness is key since a marine biotoxin outbreak could cause serious illness or death.
As a team, we decided to focus on the closure communication process. This work needed to be done urgently yet required the most manual steps, including printing PDF files of reports, referring to post-it notes for updated contact information and highlighting each harvester contacted.
The team needed a better way to manage communication with harvesters, who were the "customers" of biotoxin data.