elands bay crayfish red tide
Photo: FB / Linda Chivell

As the result of a red tide building up at Elands Bay on South Africa’s west coast, authorities have issued a Situation Yellow Alert as locals rush to collect crayfish being washed up on shore. Several marine species which are being washed up on the beach – including rock lobsters, octopus, white mussels and some fish species – may be contaminated with poisonous toxins from the Red Tide.

Elands Bay officials are currently collecting the crayfish to prevent locals taking them, and police are patrolling the beach. A multi-party contingency plan – including the SA Police Service, army, DEFF and local municipality – has been put in place to protect humans from consuming the infected seafood.

What is a Red Tide?

Red Tide is a harmful algal bloom and a “natural phenomenon in coastal waters caused by a dense accumulation of microscopic algae. Some of the algal species are harmful because they contain toxins, which are poisonous to humans,” the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) said on Sunday.

Other red tides cause harm through the depletion of oxygen (anoxia), which affects all marine creatures and can lead to mass mortalities of the entire marine communities or mass walkouts of rock lobsters that try to escape the anoxic conditions.

The department said weather conditions are not favourable at the moment in Elands Bay as a north westerly (NW) wind is currently blowing and keeping the algal bloom concentrated in the bay.

Rock lobster catches still good and oxygen levels high

“Notwithstanding the red tides, west coast rock lobster catches are still good and this indicates that oxygen levels are still high. The new moon spring tide occurred two days ago, thus limiting the possibility of a mass stranding within the next 10 days,” the department said.

West Coast Rock Lobster Contingency Plan and Situation Yellow Alert

The department has immediately activated the West Coast Rock Lobster Contingency Plan and issued a Situation Yellow Alert, placing all government roleplayers on standby.

In terms of the contingency plan, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries is the lead department, supported by West Coast District Municipality, Cederberg Municipality, South African Police Services, SANDF and Western Cape Province.

Preparing for a Situation Red

These role-players are currently preparing for a Situation Red because beaching has taken place and there is a possibility that there may be beaching in excess of 10 tons at a single or multiple localities in the area

“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,” the department said. – SAnews.gov.za