Deadly red tide slaughters fish in Hong Kong

IT LOOKS like a biblical plague. The waters around Hong Kong have succumbed to a scourge known as the red tide, which is gobbling up marine life. This lethal build-up of toxic microscopic organisms has happened before but never with the vengeance with which it has hit Hong Kong in recent weeks. Sham Chun-hung, assistant director of agriculture and fisheries, said yesterday that it had wiped out 150,000 tons of fish, half of Hong Kong's fish stock, in just four weeks. It is still spreading fast.

The red tide gets its name from the tinge that colours the sea when it is filled with algae carrying toxic substances. When these are released into the water the fish suffocate. Humans entering the affected water suffer from skin irritations, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in extreme cases, paralysis.

Mr Sham graphically described the speed with which the red tide moves: "Within a couple of hours it multiplies to a level that the fish cannot tolerate and they are wiped out." The waters around Hong Kong are filled with the inert bodies of dead fish floating on the surface surrounded by a blood-coloured murky mess.

The authorities are not sure why this year's red tide is so much worse than previously, when it came and went much more quickly. One theory is that Hong Kong has fallen victim to climatic changes induced by the phenomenon El Nino, which have been warming the oceans and causing droughts elsewhere in Asia.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong is convinced that the problem has been worsened by the illegal discharge of industrial waste into the sea by heavy industries in southern China.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong island beaches, which are usually filled to capacity over the holiday weekend, were dominated by red flags warning people not to enter the water. The warning was widely heeded, although some swimmers seemed oblivious to the risk.

Although the algae which kills fish and affects humans is clearly toxic, the government has told Hong Kong residents that it is safe to eat the dead fish. Government experts maintain the algae affects the fishes' respiratory system but will not harm humans eating the carcasses. This view is challenged by those who believe that the poison enters into other parts of the body.

"I won't say it's under control but I would say the situation has stabilised," said Mr Sham, who now faces the problem of dealing with a mountain of compensation claims from fish farmers.

Nature has not been kind to Hong Kong since China resumed sovereignty over the territory last July. First, it was hit by unprecedented torrential rains, then there was the outbreak of bird flu, which led to the slaughter of all the territory's chickens. Now fish, the other staple item of the Cantonese diet, is under threat, too.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions