Ciguatera fish poisoning is a global public health concern that is associated with Gambierdiscus, a genus of harmful algae found in coral reef environments that includes species known to produce toxins (ciguatoxins). It is thought that the pathway of Ciguatera toxins is through the food web, originating with herbivores that have fed on Gambierdiscus-associated macroalgae.
The objectives of this study were to define spatial and temporal patterns in reef health and Gambierdiscus abundance across patch reefs in the three regions of the Keys (Upper, Middle, Lower), to determine whether the drivers of those patterns were natural or anthropogenic, and to identify biogeographic indicators of risk. To address these objectives, this study combined field sampling with a “big data” approach to spatial analysis. REEF's dataset was included in one of the "big data" resources used. The study used population data from REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project database to estimate biomass of the herbivorous parrotfish and surgeonfishes. Preliminary findings of this work suggest that surgeonfish in the Florida Keys may be actively ingesting Gambierdiscus spp. cells, but more work is needed. Although this study did not find a direct linear relationship between anthropogenic factors and Gambierdiscus cell densities, there is evidence that human activities have an indirect influence on Ciguatera fish poisoning risk through reef health, as well as through overfishing, and the destruction of inshore habitats like seagrass and mangroves.