A toxic microalgae encouraged by global warming is thriving in tropical reefs and contributing to the poisoning of 50,000 people a year, reports the AP.
The poisonous algae and its effect, which is known as ciguatera, is not new; in fact, among historical celebrities, it’s believed to have poisoned Captain Cook’s men in the South Pacific near Vanatu in 1794. But scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts say that it’s much worse now than it was just twenty or thirty years ago. The director, Donald Anderson, said:
‘We have more toxins, more species of algae producing the toxins and more areas affected around the world."
The scientists blame global warming.
This adds to up to a few facts, some not good news, a little good news, and one potentially new twist:
1) First, the poison is concentrated as it moves up the food chain. Humans are not poisoned by swallowing the poisonous dinoflagellates. Humans are poisoned by eating predator fish such as barracuda, which consume other fish who filter the microalgae out of the water.
2) Consuming the toxic is an extremely painful event, and can send entire families who ate the same poisoned fish together to the hospital, with symptoms similar to those of heavy metal poisoning, such as vomiting and diarrehea, and sometimes convulsions. It can be misdiagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis.
3) There is no certain way to tell if the fish has been poisoned or not. The toxin varies from region to region, and is described as "subtle." It cannot be neutralized by cooking or cleaning the fish.
4) There is no antidote.
5) But there is good news. Although its symptoms are serious and often result in hospitalization, ciguatera is almost never fatal. and usually–not always–patients recover completely in two weeks.
6) Despite the risk, governments are reluctant to act, because there is no simple way method or test to distinguish sickening fish from healthy food.
7) Here’s the new twist: In at least one place where the outbreak just occured, in Ilolio, the Philippines residents have stopped buying barracuda and grouper.
Which raises a question. For these species, this is huge news. According to the story, despite hundreds of casees of ciguatera poisoning a year, in Hong Kong barracuda and grouper remain hugely popular:
Hong Kong diners pay a premium for the risky fish. Rare species like the Napoleon wrasse fetch nearly $50 a pound. The fish are increasingly shipped live from Southeast Asia and as far away as the South Pacific, raising concerns from the World Conservation Union that many species, especially groupers, could be fished out of existence.
So, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this suggest, on a Darwinian level, that as we warm the planet, we are increasingly driving species to resort to poisoning us to survive?
That we are, in effect, turning other inhabitants of the planet against us?