Dead Marine Creatures Appear on Kenya-Somali Shore

By Jennifer Wanjiru

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - Large numbers of dead fish, including manta rays, sharks and tuna have been washing up from the Indian Ocean onto the Kenya-Somali coast since Wednesday. Other species dead on arrival at the beaches include turtles, eels, octopus, and shell fish.

Teams of experts have arrived at the Kenyan coast to investigate. The marine deaths have caught the coastal fishing industry unawares, although poisoning has been ruled out as the cause.

The die-off is believed to have started off the coast of Kiunga, near the Somali border, causing concern among the local fishing communities and hotel operators.

"It all started with small fish, but when we saw sharks washed onto the beaches we knew there is a bigger crisis," says Dr. Kibe Kimani, a local veterinarian who lives by the seaside.

"The Kenyan Somali waters are currently experiencing an unusual red tide whose toxic algae has caused the ocean waters to turn red brown and may be the cause of the deaths," World Wildlife Fund spokesperson, Julie Church, said in an interview.


Kiunga Marine National Reserve (Photo courtesy WWFCanon/M. Gawler)
Marine experts from World Wildlife Fund were the first to arrive while scientists from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI) and the Kenyan Fisheries Office are expected to reach the northern Kenya coast by this afternoon.

"We are heading there and we are very much concerned about the issue," says Kuria Kairu, the assistant director for Marine and Coastal Research at KEMFRI.

The researcher told a local newspaper that "another algae poisoning phenomena had been reported in Shimoni on the South Coast of Kenya late last year and even as far south as South Africa."

Experts say that out of 5,000 microscopic marine algae species in the world, only 30 are known to have toxins that could harm human life. "Past surveys undertaken by KEMFRI have established presence of six species of the harmful algae along the entire Kenyan Coast," says Kairu.

It is not clear how far north the current deaths stretch, but reports from Somalia say that the Somali transitional government "has requested assistance from the International Maritime Organization and the United Nations."

Other reports indicate that the first deaths occurred off the Kenyan coast at Lamu, Pate and Kiwayu.

red tide

Red tide in Florida (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Scientists from the University of Nairobi, and Kenya Wildlife Service are also headed out to investigate the deaths.

Scientists on the shores of the Indian Ocean will send samples to the Zanzibar Institute of Marine Sciences and the University of Cape Town in South Africa for analysis.

The deaths have not only triggered a crisis in Kenyan coastal fish industry but has sent fears on what that portends.

"All fishing activities have so far been grounded. At the moment we do not know how many marine deaths occurred because they are still being washed to the beaches," says Alphayo Baraza, a warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute is also carrying out a survey on the impact of the deaths on the fish industry. "We are going to release this report together with our findings", says Kairu of KEMFRI.