The Biological Effects Quality Assurance in Monitoring Programmes (BEQUALM) project, funded by the European Union through the Standards, Measurements and Testing programme of the European Commission, was initiated in 1998 (www.bequalm.org). This was in direct response to the requirements of the Oslo-Paris Commission (OSPAR) to establish a European infrastructure for biological effects quality assurance and quality controls (QA/QC), in order that laboratories contributing to national and international marine monitoring programmes can attain defined quality standards. Biological effects measurements are increasingly being incorporated into national and international environmental monitoring programmes to supplement chemical measurements.

The original project consisted of twelve work packages on biological effects and monitoring techniques, the phytoplankton component (WP 11) was entrusted to the Forschungs und Technologiezentrum Westkuste (FTZ) at Kiel University, Germany. Two interlaboratory comparison exercises were devised in 2000 and 2001 (Reckermann and M., Colijn, F., 2000, 2001). These were the first intercomparison exercises in the enumeration and identification of microalgae at European level. Also, in 2003, BEQUALM adopted the UK NMBAQC (National Marine Biolological Quality Control Scheme) www.nmbaqcs.org as a model to progress the community analysis component which included phytoplankton abundance and composition through a self-funded programme (participants pay a fee) in 2004.

The Marine Institute (www.marine.ie) phytoplankton unit under the BEQUALM/NMBAQC banner organised the first phytoplankton intercomparison exercise in 2005 with countries from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK initially. Since 2005 the Marine Institute, Galway, Ireland, has conducted an annual International Phytoplankton Intercomparison (IPI) (formerly BEQUALM) on the abundance and composition of marine phytoplankton in water samples. First, under the auspices of the BEQUALM-NMBAQC umbrella and since 2011, in collaboration with the IOC Science and Communication Centre on Harmful Algae of UNESCO, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The design and organisation of this exercise continued under the Marine Institute – IOC – BEQUALM banner until 2015. The BEQUALM programme ended in 2015 and the intercomparison exercise changed its name to IPI (International Phytoplankton Intercomparison) . From 2021 to 2025, the IPI programme will be hosted by the Canary Islands HAB Observatory (OCHABS) in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain with the continued collaboration of the IOC Science and Communication Centre on Harmful Algae and in association with NMBAQC in the UK.