The prevalence of benthic dinoflagellates associated with ciguatera fish poisoning in the central Red Sea. Academic Article uri icon


  • This study confirms the presence of the toxigenic benthic dinoflagellates Gambierdiscus belizeanus and Ostreopsis spp. in the central Red Sea. To our knowledge, this is also the first report of these taxa in coastal waters of Saudi Arabia, indicating the potential occurrence of ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) in that region. During field investigations carried out in 2012 and 2013, a total of 100 Turbinaria and Halimeda macroalgae samples were collected from coral reefs off the Saudi Arabian coast and examined for the presence of Gambierdiscus and Ostreopsis, two toxigenic dinoflagellate genera commonly observed in coral reef communities around the world. Both Gambierdiscus and Ostreopsis spp. were observed at low densities (<200 cells g-1 wet weight algae). Cell densities of Ostreopsis spp. were significantly higher than Gambierdiscus spp. at most of the sampling sites, and abundances of both genera were negatively correlated with seawater salinity. To assess the potential for ciguatoxicity in this region, several Gambierdiscus isolates were established in culture and examined for species identity and toxicity. All isolates were morphologically and molecularly identified as Gambierdiscus belizeanus. Toxicity analysis of two isolates using the mouse neuroblastoma cell-based assay for ciguatoxins (CTX) confirmed G. belizeanus as a CTX producer, with a maximum toxin content of 6.50±1.14×10-5pg P-CTX-1 eq. cell-1. Compared to Gambierdiscus isolates from other locations, these were low toxicity strains. The low Gambierdiscus densities observed along with their comparatively low toxin contents may explain why CFP is unidentified and unreported in this region. Nevertheless, the presence of these potentially toxigenic dinoflagellate species at multiple sites in the central Red Sea warrants future study on their possible effects on marine food webs and human health in this region.

publication date

  • September 2017