From: Brian Nitz, Green Prophet
Published March 17, 2013 07:37 AM

Red Tide in Oman

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Environment and Water indicates that red tide may be present in the waters of the Gulf of Oman. As a precautionary measure, Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) shut down some desalinization plants in Kalba.

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Red tide is caused by a population explosion in certain species of plankton. The poison these microorganisms produce is usually reddish or brown in color and is toxic to the nervous system of fish and many other vertebrates. Red tide outbreaks can cause large fish die-offs and impact other animals. A red tide in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico recently killed at least 174 endangered Florida Manatees by weakening their muscles so they could no longer lift their heads to breath. Red tide does not necessarily kill shrimp and other shellfish, but its toxin is concentrated in these animals and can be passed on to humans who consume them.

You might first notice red tide by the rancid smell of dead fish strewn across the beach and water. The sea turns a reddish-brown and then you begin to cough and then notice that others around you are also coughing and wheezing. You might have a wonderful shellfish meal and later succumb to a poison that may require hospitalization. Red tide kills fish, damages human health and economies.

I experienced the effects of a lingering red tide outbreak in the eastern Gulf of Mexico during the early 1990s. It infected my eyes and skin. Breaking waves would spray the toxin into the air, causing respiratory problems for people who lived near the sea. Friends wondered if red tide was a man-made pollutant or a natural phenomenon? Is it a plant, animal or chemical? The answer is all of the above.

Red tide image via Smithsonian Ocean Portal.

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