MIRI: The state environment and fisheries authorities are monitoring the seas off northern Sarawak for possible appearance of the red-tide phenomenon following reports that waters in the southern parts of Brunei have been affected by the toxic algae.
Local fishermen are also on the alert and fishing vessels have been told to contact the authorities if they come across any signs of contamination in Sarawak waters.
Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board assistant controller and chief enforcement officer Dania Goyog said the board was aware of the possible threat posed by the algae.
(Red tide is a term use to describe contamination of the sea by a type of microscopic planktonic algae.
Those consuming sea creatures tainted by the algae will suffer serious food poisoning.)
Goyog said yesterday the board had placed surveillance helicopters on standby in Kuching for dispatch here when needed, adding that it had the facilities to conduct aerial surveillance far off the coast to detect the locations of red tides.
Aerial surveillance will be much more effective than using boats. Our helicopters can cover a wider section of the South China Sea and at a faster pace.
We will be able to get a birds eye view of how serious the situation may be, he said.
He added that the board had yet to receive an official request from the Fisheries Department for aerial surveillance assistance.
The Fisheries Department is still using boats for surveillance off the coast of Kuala Baram near to the border with Brunei, some 35km north of here.
Its Miri chief Phang Nukeng said the department had been conducting regular boat surveillance off the coast here over the past few days but had yet to come across any areas affected by red tides.
We have collected samples of water off the coast for testing. In the meantime, those who consume fish harvested off the coast here should remove the gills and innards. The fishes should be cooked very thoroughly, he said.
He said the coastal belt in northern Sarawak had never been affected by the red tide problem while Labuan and Sabah had experienced it before.
The Brunei Department of Fisheries has issued a warning in the Bruneian newspapers stating that the phenomenon had affected waters off Belait district.
It warned the public against catching fish or shellfish off the coast of Muara, Belait and Brunei Bay up to Pulau Berambang.