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El Salvador turtle die-off linked to "Red Tide"

Written by: Staff

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 25 (Reuters) A lethal algal bloom dubbed ''Red Tide'' by scientists caused a mysterious mass die-off of sea turtles on the Pacific shores of El Salvador, a US conservation group said.

''A 'Red Tide' event that occurred off the coast of El Salvador late last year directly caused the deaths of some 200 sea turtles,'' the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said in a statement yesterday.

WCS said the cause of death was revealed by tests on tissue samples from the dead reptiles, which were mostly olive ridley turtles but also included green and hawksbill turtles. All are considered to be endangered.

It said the tests showed traces of ''saxitoxin, which is produced by the species of algae and sea plankton that cause the phenomenon known as 'Red Tide'.'' The deaths were reported in January but had initially baffled scientists.

''Red Tide events have become increasingly common around the world, causing significant impacts on wild marine animal populations, massive economic losses to shellfish producers, and occasionally human deaths,'' WCS said.

''While the algal blooms are a natural occurrence, human wastes such as run-off containing fertilizers and sewage from urban areas have been postulated as triggers for these events.'' Reuters DH VP0448

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