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Toxic Red Tide Outbreak Hits Chilean Waters, Stirs Fishermen To Unrest

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Fishermen in Chile expressed their concern about the growing red tide crisis along the country's southern coast, which has already caused thousands of sardines and salmon to die in recent weeks.

The mass die-offs of aquatic animals in the region brought on by the appearance of toxic algal bloom has stirred fishermen to take to the streets and demand support from the Chilean government. Many of them have been out of work for weeks because they could no longer fish in the foul-smelling waters.

"People don't dare to eat our fish because they're afraid it is contaminated, so we are all affected on the island," Marcos Salas, president of the fishermen's union on Chiloé island, said.

"We lost our labor source and now we have no way to bring sustenance to our families."

Considered to be the worst case of toxic blooms Chile has ever experienced in its history, the ongoing red tide is likely caused by the warming of waters in the Pacific as a result of this year's devastating El Niño phenomenon.

While the Chilean government has already declared a state of disaster in red tide-contaminated areas and has started paying each affected family about $150 as compensation, many fishermen believe it is not enough to address the situation.

According to the locals, the ongoing algal bloom in Chile's southern waters is far worse than just merely a typical case of the red tide. Many believe it was caused in part by the government's poor regulation of the aquaculture trade in the country.

Some of the protesting fishermen have blocked access to the island of Chiloé in order to demand an explanation and aid from the national government.

However, scientists warn that determining the exact cause of toxic blooms is not an easy task. In the case of the red tide in Chile, ecologist Barbara Saavedra explained that it would be more difficult to find out what triggered the event since scientific monitoring of such occurrences haven't been rigorous enough or even well supported.

Algal blooms are known to be quite deadly to fish, birds and other aquatic animals. Ingesting food or water contaminated with the toxic substance can cause a paralysis of the central nervous system. People who eat shellfish taken from red tide-infested areas can also be poisoned by the toxin.

Photo: Terry Ross | Flickr 

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