March 24, 2006

El Salvador turtle die-off linked to “Red Tide”

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A lethal algal bloom dubbed "Red
Tide" by scientists caused a mysterious mass die-off of sea
turtles on the Pacific shores of El Salvador, a U.S.
conservation group said on Friday.

"A 'Red Tide' event that occurred off the coast of El
Salvador late last year directly caused the deaths of some 200
sea turtles," the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society
(WCS) said in a statement.

WCS said the cause of death was revealed by tests on tissue
samples from the dead reptiles, which were mostly olive ridley
turtles but also included green and hawksbill turtles. All are
considered to be endangered.

It said the tests showed traces of "saxitoxin, which is
produced by the species of algae and sea plankton that cause
the phenomenon known as 'Red Tide'."

The deaths were reported in January but had initially
baffled scientists.

"Red Tide events have become increasingly common around the
world, causing significant impacts on wild marine animal
populations, massive economic losses to shellfish producers,
and occasionally human deaths," WCS said.

"While the algal blooms are a natural occurrence, human
wastes such as run-off containing fertilizers and sewage from
urban areas have been postulated as triggers for these events."