IT LOOKS like a biblical plague. The waters around Hong Kong have succumbed to a scourge known as the red tide, which is gobbling up marine life. This lethal build-up of toxic microscopic organisms has happened before but never with the vengeance with which it has hit Hong Kong in recent weeks. Sham Chun-hung, assistant director of agriculture and fisheries, said yesterday that it had wiped out 150,000 tons of fish, half of Hong Kong's fish stock, in just four weeks. It is still spreading fast.
The red tide gets its name from the tinge that colours the sea when it is filled with algae carrying toxic substances. When these are released into the water the fish suffocate. Humans entering the affected water suffer from skin irritations, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in extreme cases, paralysis.
Mr Sham graphically described the speed with which the red tide moves: "Within a couple of hours it multiplies to a level that the fish cannot tolerate and they are wiped out." The waters around Hong Kong are filled with the inert bodies of dead fish floating on the surface surrounded by a blood-coloured murky mess. The authorities are not sure why this year's red tide is so much worse than previously, when it came and went much more quickly. One theory is that Hong Kong has fallen victim to climatic changes induced by the phenomenon El Nino, which have been warming the oceans and causing droughts elsewhere in Asia. …