Red Algae

Red algae destroying the environment off the coast of Chile… salmon farming the likely cause

An algal bloom that carries a potent neurotoxin is spreading hundreds of miles along Patagonia’s coast, and the Chilean salmon farming industry is being blamed for what is quickly becoming Chile’s worst environmental crisis in modern times.

The algal bloom has been rendering seafood toxic, and depriving countless fishermen of their livelihood. It has been dubbed the “red tide,” because it turns the sea water red as it spreads its deadly poison across wide areas of water.

While scientists believe the unseasonably warm temperatures have played a role in this phenomenon, the main culprit is said to be the country’s salmon industry. The regular dumping of rotten salmon into the ocean has caused huge piles of salmon food and feces to suffocate part of the sea floor. Nutrients are routinely dumped into the floating salmon cages used by farmers, which then fall on to the sea bed, and this could provide the perfect conditions for the toxic algae to thrive.

The algal blooms emit a central nervous system-paralyzing toxin that can be fatal not only to fish and marine animals, but also to birds. Eating shellfish that comes from areas affected by the red tide can poison humans.

Investigators looking into salmon farming industry

Regional prosecutor Marcos Emilfork stated that an investigation into the problem is currently underway. He said: “I want to categorically affirm that we are investigating the possible criminal acts in regards to the dumping of dead salmon into the sea.”

He added: “Environmental crimes are extremely serious and are a priority,” and noted that guilty parties could end up in prison.

Chile is taking the matter very seriously, with President Michelle Bachelet naming a scientific commission to look into the disaster and the role that human activity might have played.

‘Red tide of biblical proportions’

Marine biologist Hector Kol used strong language to emphasize the seriousness of the disaster. He said: “The problem we now have is a red tide of biblical proportions. Chiloe has changed, the sea is toxic. Right now we have a red tide with symptoms of diarrhoea, amnesia and paralysis from near the Straits of Magellan to Valdivia.” The Chiloe area is one of the hardest hit, and the stretch he referred to covers more than 1,200 miles of coastline.

The government has declared some areas emergency zones where activity is not permitted. Commerce on the island has ground to a halt. Fishermen have now blocked access to Chiloe to protest what they feel is insufficient government compensation for their losses, in a move that has left locals and tourists stranded.

Dante Montiel, the municipal secretary for the city of Castro in the affected Chiloe area, likened the salmon industry to a missile that disintegrated the area. “We now have the consequences: environmental and social disintegration,” he said.

Meanwhile, salmon farmers are quick to defend themselves, saying that they adhere to high environmental standards. It has been a bad year for the salmon industry, after high temperatures led to an infection that wiped out around a fifth of the country’s farmed salmon industry, which is worth billions of dollars. Around 27 million salmon died, many of which were ground up and made into fishmeal for healthy fish to consume. A further 20 million pounds were buried in area dumps. Sei whales, sardines and squid have also experienced mass die-offs, while dogs have been dying after consuming poisoned shellfish.

Experts believe that the red tide could last for several months. Last year, an unusually large and dense toxic algal bloom led to the shutdown of countless crab, clam, sardine and anchovy fisheries in California, Washington and Oregon.

Bushra Gul
Bushra Gul
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