Malaysia: Scientist says red seaweed in Tanjung Gelam not harmful to humans, just don't touch it

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 31 Oct 16;

KUALA NERUS: The ‘red tide’ phenomenon that resulted in heaps of red coloured seaweed being washed ashore in Tanjung Gelam here is not a cause for worry.

Giving the assurance, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s Marine Science Studies Centre lecturer Associate Prof Dr Siti Aisyah Abdullah said the seaweed is not harmful to humans.

“However, I must caution them not to touch it for fear it may cause skin irritation owing to the presence of some form of toxins,” said the scientist.

Aisyah said the stormy monsoon weather, with its strong currents, may have caused what was termed as a 'red tide' phenomenon which usually was not harmful to marine life.

On the foul odour, she said it was due to the plant's decaying process after it had been uprooted from the waters.

“Anyhow, the university is conducting a detailed analysis on the matter to obtain further details. We are also looking to find out if the red coloured seaweed is of the gracillaria type which had previously got dumped on the same beach in 2003,” said Dr Aisyah.

She said the red tides were not typically associated with tidal movement of water, hence the preference among scientists to use the term algal bloom for large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms.

It is learnt that the red tide is usually caused by a few species of dinoflagellates that bloom into a red or brown colour.

News reports said that red tides were events in which estuarine, marine or fresh water phytoplankton algae accumulate rapidly in the water column, resulting in colouration of the water surface or seaweed.

It is usually found in coastal areas and kills many marine life.

The phytoplankton are single-celled protists, plant-like organisms that can form dense, visible patches on the water, the reports said.

The reports added dinoflagellates, contain photosynthetic pigments that vary in colour from green to brown to red. When the algae are present in high concentrations, the water appears to be discoloured or murky, varying in colour from purple to almost pink, normally being red or green.

Some 'red tides' are associated with the production of natural toxins, depletion of dissolved oxygen or other harmful effects.

The most conspicuous effects of these kinds of red tides, the reports said, were those associated with wildlife mortalities of marine and coastal species of fish, birds, marine mammals, and other organisms.

The red coloured seaweed along a 500m stretch had attracted large numbers of curious onlookers since last Friday.

Local resident Maizon Embong, 63, said it was the first such occurance since she had been living there the past ten years.

“At first, I thought it was the dumping of garbage. But upon closer inspection, I realised it was seaweed.

“I first spotted the red coloured seaweed at noon last Friday following a heavy stench from the beach about 50m from the rear of my house,” she said, adding the seaweed kept piling up each day.

Schoolboy Ahmad Ikram Shariman Ahmad Salinan, 11, said he initially though the foul odour to be that of dead fish or cockles.

“It was only after many residents had gathered at the beach that I learnt that it was from the red coloured seaweed,” he said.

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