A harmful Red Tide building up on the West Coast of the country could result in a plethora of marine species washing up on beaches across the Western Cape.
The Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries (Deff) said rock lobsters, octopus, white mussels and “some fish species” can be expected to wash up, some of which are already littering beaches in the Elands Bay region.
Red Tide is a natural phenomenon caused by a buildup of microscopic algae. Some algal species are toxic to humans and other marine species.
The current north westerly wind blowing over the bay is “not favourable”, the department explained, because this keeps the algal bloom concentrated in Elands Bay.
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Red tides also cause oxygen depletion, which affects all marine creatures and can lead to mass mortalities. “Mass walkouts” of rock lobsters are currently being observed as the creatures try to escape.
Along with foul smells, red tides can have major environmental and societal implications, which can hit coastal communities hard.
The Cederberg Local Municipality has reported that “tons of lobster” and “tons of crayfish” have already run out of the ocean.
“Notwithstanding the red tides, West coast rock lobster catches are still good and this indicates that oxygen levels are still high,” Deff explained.
There was also a new moon spring tide which limits the possibility of a mass stranding “within the next 10 days.”
As a precaution, however, a “situation yellow alert” has been instituted as part of Deff’s contingency plan, and all local governments are on standby.
The contingency plan ropes in Deff, West Coast District Municipality, Cederberg Municipality, the SAPS, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and Western Cape provincial administration.
This is because mass beachings in extreme conditions could exceed 10 tons at one or multiple locations. The marine life escaping the water is also dangerous for human consumption.
“As is often the case in summer and late summer, there has been a build-up of large Red Tides in the greater St. Helena Bay region over the past few weeks. These blooms of phytoplankton presently extend 50-60 kilometres in the vicinity of Elands Bay, Lambert’s Bay and Doring Bay,” Deff said.