The double-whammy of global warming and a record-breaking El Niño are having yet another detrimental effect, killing massive amounts of sea life off of the coast of Chile. Being blamed is an algal bloom that is choking the waters of the Pacific, killing fish such as cuttlefish, salmon and sardines, and may be responsible for the deaths of over 300 whales that washed ashore last year.
Much like the red tide experienced off of the west coast of North America last year, warm waters in the South Pacific are providing a cozy environment for cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae that often causes the red tide phenomenon. During these blooms, the algae contaminates and poisons the food source for many aquatic species, and in extreme cases, consumes too much of the surrounding water’s oxygen, suffocating many species in the process.
"We have red tides every year in southern Chile, but this time it reached further north," explains researcher Jorge Navarro, at the IDEAL marine institute. "It affected bivalve populations (such as clams) that had never before been exposed like this."
8,000 tons of dead sardines washed up at the mouth of the Queule river this month, and Chiloe Island had thousands of dead clams wash up on their shores. 40,000 tons of salmon also succumbed, causing the Chilean government to suspend fishing in affected areas, putting local fishermen out of work.
While some researchers are also pointing to the growth of Chile’s aquaculture industry as a contributor to the current red tide, the current El Niño is being named by many experts as the prime suspect.
"We think that a common factor in the deaths of creatures in southern Chile, in the salmon farms and in fish off the coast is the El Nino phenomenon," experts at the Chilean fisheries institute IFOP explained.