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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 15:37 GMT
Mysterious East African fish deaths
Mombasa beach
Toxic algae or toxic pollutants are suspected
An investigation has been launched into the mysterious deaths of thousands of fish and other sea life, whose bodies are being washed ashore along the Kenyan and Somali coastlines.

A team of marine experts from Worldwide Fund for Nature, WWF and environmentalists say that it is possible the deaths of manta rays, sharks, tuna and turtles amongst other things might have been killed by toxic algae.

Laboratory tests have detected harmful algae in the water and samples have been sent to experts in South Africa for further investigations.

But toxic pollutants in the sea are also not being ruled out.

There are fears that if it is toxic algae it could be Red Tide - which gives a red tint to coastal waters.

Experts say this could last for months and cannot be controlled.

The algae produces a toxin that affects the central nervous system of fish and paralyses them, preventing them from breathing.

Marine disaster

Ms Julie Church, a local representative of the WWF, told the BBC that it is the first time this kind of marine disaster has occurred on the Kenyan coast.

Marine life was washed up on the toursit destination of Lamu Island

She explained that toxic levels can be influenced by climatic changes.

The WWF representative is however non committal over the mass death of marine wildlife until the final results of the scientific analysis on samples are released.

Fishermen all along the Somalia and northern Kenyan coast are reported to have suspended their operations fearing that their catch could be poisonous.

Eating seafood that has consumed harmful algae can cause food poisoning and in some cases can be life threatening depending on the algae involved.

Pollution problem

Pollution has long been a problem off Kenya's northern coastline, which lies adjacent to Somalia.

Marine expert David Olendo told the BBC's correspondent in Mombasa that the deaths could have been caused by massive pollution near war torn Somalia.

Maritime sources in Mombasa claim that some multinational companies have been dumping toxic waste into the Indian Ocean using the Somali channel.

Fish in Kenya
Kenya's waters is full of various species of fish and other sea wildlife

The sources say that ship captains have been paying ransom money to Somali militia to enable them dump the waste, and the current marine deaths might just be a result of the pollution.

Somalia has lacked an effective national government for more than a decade.

Kenyan fisheries officials confirmed that fish are being washed into Kenya from Somali, but could not confirm whether the Kenyan waters are safe.

A report by several UN agencies in 2000 revealed massive pollution by toxic materials caused by dumping along Somalia's coastline.

See also:

23 Aug 01 | Scotland
Charity warns of pollution threat
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