TACLOBAN CITY, (PNA) – Eastern Visayas region is threatened by what the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) described as the biggest red tide bloom that has not been seen in more than three decades.

BFAR Regional Director Juan Alabaladejo blamed the prolong dry season this year and sudden downpour as the major factor that triggered the bloom in eight bays and coastal waters, considered as the region’s major source of shellfish.

“If you’re to an aerial view of Samar Sea up to Biliran Sea, the color of water turned to copper red with a depth of six to nine meters, stretching up to a kilometer from the shoreline. This is the most widespread occurrence since 1983,” Albaladejo said in a phone interview.

The discoloration of seawater is triggered by massive population growth of few species of a type of algae that produce toxins.

Since mid-October, BFAR has been raising alert over Carigara Bay in Carigara, Barugo, San Miguel, Capoocan, and Leyte towns in Leyte province; Biliran Strait in Naval, Caibiran, Cabucgayan, Culaba, Kawayan, and Almeria in Biliran province; and coastal waters of Leyte, Leyte.

Red tide alert is also up over Cambatutay Bay in Tarangnan, Samar; Irong Irong Bay in Catbalogan City, Samar; Villareal Bay in Villareal, Samar; and Maqueda Bay in Jiabong, Catbalogan City, Motiong, Paranas, Pinabacdao, Hinabangan, San Sebastian, and Calbiga, Samar.

“The red tide occurrence has affected the livelihood of thousands of fishermen, but we have to strictly impose shellfish ban to safeguard public health,” said BFAR

Since mid November, the toxin found in shellfish harvested from contaminated bays, has already killed a seven-year old boy and downed 22 others in Leyte and Biliran provinces, according to the Department of Health (DOH)

The boy from the coastal San Mateo village in Carigara town succumbed on Nov. 30 after eating univalve shellfish harvested from the bay contaminated with algae.

The other six members of his family also manifested symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning, but survived, according to DOH Eastern Visayas Regional .

In San Mateo village alone, red tide has downed 16 people. The nearby village of Minuhang in Barugo town has recorded four cases of poisoning with one victim still confined at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in this city.

Two victims were also downed on Nov. 28 in Naval, Biliran or a week after BFAR issued a shellfish bulletin, placing Biliran Strait as red tide-affected area.

All victims have experienced vomiting, dizziness, numbness of extremities, and paralysis.

Molon said that one mortality is very alarming considering that there have been repeated warnings from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

“Some victims were not able to hear warnings. I think verbal announcement is not enough, they should print it and post the announcement in strategic areas,” Molon added.

Albaladejo said the reading for waters in Carigara Bay and in Biliran is 9,000 and 12,000 cells per liter, respectively. This is way above the 10 cells per liter during normal situations.

The official has called on the public to heed government warnings not to harvest, transport, trade, and eat any kind of shellfish contaminated with algae. (PNA)