Topic outline

  • General

    Course Introduction

    Since 1993 the IOC has conducted training courses on harmful microalgae. The purpose has been to improve the taxonomic and identification skills of the participants for research purposes and for practical monitoring of harmful algal blooms.

    As from 2006 the IOC training has been offered within a new framework which gives accreditation. The present course includes now an examination at the end of the course with an IOC Certificate of Proficiency in Identification of Harmful Algae issued to participants who pass the examination. We know by experience that many of the more than 500 trainees we have had over the years have wished the courses to give accreditation. In some countries (e.g. New Zealand), the IOC courses have become a reference for laboratories to be approved for carrying out regulatory monitoring for harmful microalgae.

    Course description

    The course includes 100 hours of teaching and is divided into two parts. 1) The first part of the course is an internet teaching programme giving general introductions to the various groups of harmful algae; this part is mainly for self-study and estimated to 40 hours of reading. 2) The second part is a practical course in species identification including 2 optional workshops in enumeration and culture techniques. It may be possible to participate in both workshops, or alternatively spent the time examining mixed samples from various geographical regions and/or own samples. Part 2 includes 60 hours of teaching and a microscope will be available to each participant during the entire period.

    Part I - Distance learning

    The distance learning programme is using the UNESCO/IOC platform ‘Ocean Teacher’. The programme consists of 7 modules. There is an introductory text to each module and in some cases also technical documents with information on terminology, sample preparation etc. A short powerpoint presentation with the most important HAB species is included; the full detailed version will be distributed duirng Part II. A few selected articles are including in most modules in the ‘Literature’ folder (this folder can be accessed only by course participants using passwords); more literature will be made available during the practical part of the course.


    Part II – Species identification

    This part of the course will focus on identification of harmful algal species, with particular reference to the ‘IOC Taxonomic Reference List on Toxic Plankton Algae’. The use of electron microscopy will be introduced, but practical exercises are not included.


  • Harmful Algal Blooms

    Marine phytoplankton blooms - or 'red tides' - are naturally occurring phenomena. About 300 species are reported at times to form blooms with cell concentrations of several million per liter.  About one fourth of the bloom forming species is known to produce toxins that may be detrimental or even fatal to other flora and fauna including human beings. Presently, six human syndromes are recognized caused by algal toxins accumulated in fin- or shellfish.  In recognition of the potential health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated seafood, the government authorities in many countries have imposed restrictions on certain seafood products for human consumption. These restrictions include analyses of the seafood products for algal toxins, and by many countries it is also required that monitoring programmes for the detection of harmful algae are established.

    For further literature, see link

  • Dinoflagellates

    Dinoflagellates can normally be recognized in LM by their characteristic nucleus which has permanently condensed chromosomes. Another characteristic feature is the amphiesma or theca, which is a complex of membranes and wall material surrounding the cell.

    There are about 2000 extant species of dinoflagellates most of which (ca. 1700) occur in marine or brackish water habitats. Among the microalgae, the dinoflagellates comprise the largest number of harmful/toxic species. Most species belong in the orders Prorocentrales, Dinophysiales, Gonyaulacales, and Gymnodiniales, but a few members of the Peridiniales are also potential toxin producers.

     For further literature, see link

  • Diatoms

    Diatoms are ecologically one of the most important algal groups. It has been estimated that diatoms account for 40-45% of the oceans primary production and 20-25% of the global primary production. Diatoms are also one of the largest algal groups known with respect to species number, comprising ca. 12.000 accepted species. Much of the species diversity of diatoms is, however, still undescribed and estimates of more than 200.000 species have been suggested by experienced taxonomists.

    Diatoms are eukaryotic, unicellular, organisms. The vast majority are photosynthetic; The characteristics of diatoms are: type of colony, chloroplast number and shape, cell shape and characters of the siliceous cell wall. The diatoms are included in the Heterokontophyta.

    For documents, see link

    For further literature, see link

  • Raphidophyceae

    Raphidophytes are heterokont flagellates with two sub-equal, heterodynamic flagella arising from a groove or pocket. The anterior flagellum has two rows of fine tripartite hairs, which are visible only by electron microscopy, while the posterior (trailing) flagellum is smooth and often lies close to the surface of the cell.

    Raphidophyte flagellates are naked and therefore extremely fragile, and generally they can be identified only in live material.

    The cells contain numerous golden-brown chloroplasts and the main accessory material pigment in marine raphidophytes is fucoxanthin.

    For further literature, see link

  • Dictyochophyceae

    Dictyochophytes are nanoplanktonic flagellates some of which have previously been assigned to the raphidophytes. The group has been reviewed by Eckford-Soper & Daugbjerg (2016). 

    For further literature, see link

    • Cyanobacteria

      The Cyanobacteria or Cyanoprokaryota (also called Cyanophyceae when classified as algae) are primitive single-celled, colonial or filamentous organisms, characterized by the absence of a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles.

      They were among the first photosynthetic organisms to evolve on our Planet some 3.5 Billion years ago, capturing sunlight by means of the green pigment chlorophyll a and a combination of water-soluble phycobili-protein pigments (phycocyanin and phycoerythrin). Therefore, the cyanobacteria are primary producers as the eukariotic algae. In certain tropical regions, e.g. in the Caribbean See, Cyanobacteria constitute one of the main groups of the phytoplankton community, contributing about 20% of the total primary production.

      For further literature, see link