Countless dead sea creatures plague coast of Chile

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Thousands of dead clams and sardines washed up along the shores of Chile, becoming the latest of a growing number of dead sea creatures that are plaguing the country.

The catastrophe began last year when more than 300 whales turned up dead in remote bays on the southern coast, according to AFP News via Yahoo!

Earlier this year, 40,000 tons of salmon, or about 12 percent of the country’s annual salmon production, died in the Los Lagos region. That was followed in the past week or so by 8,000 tons of sardines washing ashore at the mouth of the Queule River and thousands of dead clams piling up on the coast of Chiloe Island.

Also, thousands of cuttlefish washed up on the shores of Santa Maria Island.

Over the past four weeks, the southern-central region of Los Lagos has been afflicted with what scientists are calling the biggest red tide in the country’s history, according to the Reuters via The Guardian.

A red tide is a naturally occurring algae bloom that turns the sea red and chokes the area waters of oxygen, subsequently killing sea creatures.

Ultimately, scientists blame an unusually strong El Niño weather pattern and its warmer sea surface temperatures for the disaster, as warmer water can produce greater quantities of algae. With a Pacific coastline of 2,485 miles, Chile is especially susceptible to its effects.

“We think that a common factor in the deaths of creatures in southern Chile, in the salmon farms and in fish off the coast is the El Nino phenomenon,” an expert at the Chilean fisheries institute IFOP told AFP, adding that the current El Nino has been classified as “one of the most intense in the past 65 years.”

Thousands of affected fishermen have protested the government’s lack of effort to mitigate the economic effects of the red tide. The government offered each affected family 100,000 pesos (or $149 USD) as compensation, but fishermen say it’s insufficient.

Artisanal fishing unions and others have blamed the size of the red tide on pollution caused by the growth in commercial salmon farming.

“There are studies indicating that in Patagonia the greater occurrence of toxic blooms could be a consequence of aquaculture,” Laura Farias, an oceanographer at Universidad de Concepcion in Chile told AFP.

But salmon fishermen and many scientists reject that notion and point to El Nino.

“Chile still lacks information about the sea,” Valesca Montes, a fisheries specialist at the Chilean branch of the World Wildlife Fund, told AFP.

“It has to invest in oceanographic studies, so that we can predict certain events.”

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