KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Fisheries Department has taken several measures following the red tide phenomenon here including a temporary ban on the harvesting, sale and consumption of shellfish from affected areas.
Deputy Chief Minister and state Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Industry Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said this followed the discovery of red tide-causing algae in coastal waters around Kota Kinabalu and Tuaran recently.
He said the Fisheries Department had also issued a Red Tide Explosion Warning Notice.
He said the notice was issued based on established guidelines and procedures, indicating that a red tide explosion was currently happening in Kota Kinabalu waters and was expected to spread to Tuaran waters.
"People are advised to refrain from swimming in the waters around Kota Kinabalu and Tuaran until further notice.
"The government is monitoring the situation and will provide updates as necessary," Kitingan said in a statement on Sunday (Feb 19).
He said while the red tide was a natural occurrence that could be exacerbated by factors such as climate change and human activities such as pollution and overfishing, it did pose health and environmental risks.
"It is important for the public to be aware of the risks associated with red tide and to take precautions," he added.
The phenomenon, which was caused by an increase in the population of certain types of algae – Margalefidinium polykrikoides (Cochlodium) and Pyrodinium bahamense – could produce harmful toxins that affected marine life and human health, Kitingan said.
He said while Margalefidinium polykrikoides was not harmful to humans, it was dangerous to fish, especially those raised in cages where an explosion with a high cell density could cause great fish mortality, causing losses to fish farmers.
On the other hand, Pyrodinium bahamense poses a danger to humans and toxins could accumulate in shellfish such as cockles, clams, mussels and oysters.
When consumed, these could cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), he said.
Kitingan said the symptoms of PSP include tingling, numbness and burning sensations in the mouth, lips and tongue; followed by headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
In severe cases, it could lead to respiratory paralysis, coma, and even death.
He said the Fisheries Department would take further action if necessary to ensure the safety and sustainability of Sabah’s seafood resources.
He urged fishermen and seafood traders to follow the standard operating procedures set by the authorities and ensure that their products were safe for consumption.
"We must all play our part to safeguard the health and well-being of our people, and to protect the integrity of our food supply chain," Kitingan added.
He explained that the presence of the algae was determined through water samples taken at several locations around Kota Kinabalu and other areas on Thursday (Feb 16).
"Red tide blooms often occur in west coast Sabah waters, especially from Sipitang, Kuala Penyu to Tuaran or Kota Belud," he said.
Red tide occurrences in the east coast were rare and had not been reported for more than 20 years, Kitingan added.
He said the density rate of cells per litre was different at each location and the danger threshold was considered to have been reached when the number of cells exceeds 2,000 per litre for Margalefidinium polykrikoides and 800 per litre for Pyrodinium bahamense.
"Therefore, the public is advised not to consume any shellfish from the affected areas until further notice," he warned.