El Salvador: toxic algae and climate change

Biologists are shocked after finding around 300 sea turtles dead in Jiquilisco Bay


Leer en Español: El Salvador: la Marea Roja y el cambio climático  

Scientist found at least 300 sea turtles floating 7 nautical miles away from the Jiquilisco Bay in the Usulután state, southeastern El Salvador. According to the Environmental and Natural Resources Ministry, most of the bodies were in different stages of decomposition; it seems as if this has been the worst case of animal deaths to ever be recorded in the region.The State government announced that they collected some samples from the turtles to settle the cause of death.

A research group from the El Salvador University assured that the cause was a natural phenomenon called Red Tide or toxic algae. Despite the fact that the Environment Ministry stated that there wasn’t presence of this kind of algae in the water they collected in the area, officials doesn't discard this theory.

The researchers showed satellite photos that demonstrate the presence of high levels of Chlorophyll, which can be related to the production of the Red Tide. According to experts, the more levels of pigment present in the ocean, the higher the number of micro-algae.

Back in 2006 and 2013, El Salvador suffered two other happenings similar to this one. In 2006,  120 specimens were found without life floating in the sea; 200 dead bodies in 2013. According to the studies carried out after said discoveries, their deaths were due to toxic microalgae.

What is the Red Tide?

The Red Tide is a natural phenomenon characterized by a high concentration of specific plankton components.

According to the University of Chile , microalgae are part of the food chain. In some specific environmental conditions, like the water temperature, the salinity, luminosity, and the nutrient availability, the number of algae increases in unexpected manners. The water can become either red, yellow, or brown.

The institution explained that these algae can also be dangerous for humans. When some bivalve molluscs eat them, they acquire its toxicity and can be deadly for those who consume them.

Animals that acquire toxins from the Red Tide don't suffer any alteration or modification in their color, smell, or texture. This is why it is important to test the toxic levels of sea animals that can be in contact with the algae. Experts also explain that the toxins are resistant to high temperatures, so boiling them it's not enough to kill the microalgae.

Climate change could be the one to blame

According to the European Agency of Environment, climate change is raising not only the temperature of the sea’s surface, but also deeper waters. The Spanish Office for Climate Change assured that each decade the ocean temperature rises between 0.2 and 0.7degrees Celsius affecting the acidity levels in seawater and the level of the sea itself. All of them are key factors for the Red Tide development.

A recent study published in the Science Advances magazine assured that temperature in seawaters is rising over the past 80 years affecting the biodiversity found within the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.


Latin American Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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