17 March 2005

Response team set up for red tide danger

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism has set up a "red tide response team" following the detection of a toxic red tide along the entire West Coast. The red tide has been detected from Doring Baai to Cape Agulhas.

A spokesperson for the department, JP Louw, said the team, headed by Noel Williams, who is responsible for integrated coastal management in the department, called for the public not to collect or eat any shellfish in the affected areas until further notice.

"More cases of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) have been reported to the department," said Louw.

PSP symptoms include tingling and numbness of the mouth, lips and fingers, difficulty in breathing, accompanied by general muscular weakness and lack of co-ordination. In severe cases it can cause paralysis and can be fatal.

Red tides are natural phenomena and usually occur as a result of abnormally high production of plankton. Shellfish such as mussels, clams, bait and oysters are particularly vulnerable to red tides because they filter-feed.

An accumulation of toxic plankton, and in this case Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP), in the digestive system of these filter feeders will cause illness. A single mussel can be fatal.

The department's scientists and inspectors are monitoring the situation closely and are taking daily samples of water and mussels to determine toxicity levels.

Louw said results from Monday's samples showed high levels of toxicity, confirming the danger in consuming these organisms.

"The department's inspectors have embarked on an information awareness process with communities along the coast," he said.

For further information on PSP and DSP the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre can be contacted on 021 931 6129.


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