Listen up!!! Turns out the plankton partying along our coastline are NOT what we thought they were, and have now been identified as dinoflagellates Lingulodinium polyedra (F.Stein) and/or Gonyaulax polyedra (J.D.Dodge).
Initial reports coming in last night were that these guys could be super nasty - producing a horrid toxin which gave rise to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) - and I posted a blog early this morning warning peeps about it cos it's pretty hectic stuff. But have just got word from those in the know that it looks like the toxins the newly identified plankton strain produces are NOT the mean PSP variety, but rather the milder yessotoxin.
Shew - crisis averted. So instead of this mini-bugger putting you in the hospital with nausea, vomiting and a host of other nasty symptoms (which could even culminate in death!), it's back to looking like it isn't gonna do anything to you at all. Apologies for any unnecessary panic caused by the earlier warnings of it being poisonous! Rather it can be down-graded to potentially poisonous.
Mentioned the yessotoxins a few days ago in a blog - the one's that seem to show symptoms in mice, but not humans. So provided you aren't a mouse you should be fine.
Still, because so little is still known about it, it makes sense to adhere to the warning not to eat shellfish. Better safe than sorry. Info around this whole red tide is forever changing as it's a totally new species for this area and little is known about it.
The info on the new species came to light late Monday arvo - after super-sleuth Dr Tommy Bornmann from SAEON wanted to double check the ID they had on the bloom. He wasn't satisfied that this was indeed P.reticulatum cos it isn't known for spectacular glow-in-the-dark displays. Lucky for us scientists like Tommy like to question everything.
So some plankton went by plane to Croatia to get sussed out by experts there. They got back to him with a revised identification. New kid on the block.
The scientists at DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries) are also conducting more studies but at this stage seem in agreement with the new ID's. They've also done testing at the oyster farm in PE and so far haven't picked up signs of any toxicity, although there is a few days lag in the testing, so new results may come to light in the future.
Although this species looks almost identical in structure to the Protoceratium reticulatum, this one is a slightly more evil twin. Let's be honest, any plankton that has "Dodge" in it's species name should give you a hint he's up to mischief. But at least he isn't as nasty as initially feared. Unless you're a mouse.
Reports of fish deaths in the Sards area continue, with mussel crackers and blacktails appearing some of the worst affected. Remember the fish are dying cos of hypoxia, not directly from exposure or ingestion of the plankton (see this blog post for more details).
Plenty of peeps are concerned about whether it's safe to eat fish. Seems it is. Not likely that the toxin can make it's way up the food chain from shellfish to the fish themselves even if the fish eat them. But it would be pretty doff to eat any of the dead fish you pick up on the beach - purely cos they've been lying there in the sun and most likely are a bit vrot!
A serious concern is that cos it's a new species for the area, the cells of the plankton will form cysts on the sea floor which can re-emerge when the environmental conditions are right. So, looks the lil bastards are here to stay. Lurking in the shadows until conditions to come out and jol again look perfect again.
We really need a big storm with decent swell and pomping west to try shift these plankton poepals offshore and disperse them. Anyone with good connections in the Antarctic, please ask em to rustle up something down there for us and send it this way.
So here's what we know to date - safe to swim in the sea, safe to eat fish, better to avoid shellfish.
Thanks to Dr Shirley Parker-Nance (NMMU), Dr Tommy Bornman (SAEON) and Prof Peter Britz (Rhodes) for the info. Special thanks to Dr Bornmann who kept on digging til he found out what this critter was.
All that glitters is not gold. Turns out that all that glows has a dark side too.
The plankton party that has had everyone in awe by turning the wildside shoreline into a spectacular light show has got a sting in the tail. There were reports of a large number of dead fished washed up on Sards beach yesterday.
Local scientists had warned that this could be one of the side-effects of the recent red tide. The party can go bad for two reasons, both oxygen-related.
Firstly the plankton are on such a mad jol with their nocturnal glow antics that they suck all the available dissolved oxygen out of the water at night cos of some heavy breathing (cellular respiration in science-speak). Pretty much the same way you'd get breathless busting out all your moves on the dance floor.
Secondly, all epic jols have to end. The mass death of the critters once the party is over results in a whole big pile of bodies on the ocean floor. Along come hordes of bacteria - who are the grim reapers of the sea and pitch up wherever things are dying. These ocean street cleaners have to decompose all the dead stuff. But guess what, decomposing death is hard work!
All this effort means the bacteria suck up most of the oxygen in the surrounding water. Although not a great thing, it isn't a train smash as long as the bottom waters are mixing well with the oxygen-rich surface waters - which means the oxygen content down below gets renewed. The hiccup comes if due to localised sea conditions the water becomes stratified. This is basically like a Water Apartheid. The water on the top don't mix with the water on the bottom. It often occurs in bays and coves, such as Sards, that are cut off from the large-scale circulation patterns that promote mixing. Probably find the lack of swell on that side has amplified the weak local currents even further.
Because the oxygen-depleted bottom waters don't get refreshed, it causes hypoxia. This makes it really hard for fish and other marine creatures to breathe. Pretty much a case of "Move or die, fish". Sometimes the oxygen depletion happens so quickly that it cuts off escape routes and then results in the death of marine life through suffocation. This is called a black tide, and seems to have been the case at Sardinia Bay - with upwards of 300 fish washed up onto the beach on Saturday afternoon.
It's pretty ironic considering the bacteria are there to clean up the dead to start with. You're maybe not doing your job so lekker if you cause death whilst you're cleaning death up. Just saying.
Nature can be weird sometimes.
And there's still possibly another twist in the tale. Low oxygen conditions can allow certain bacteria to convert sulphates in the water to hydrogen sulphide gas. Remember the stuff that smelt like rotten eggs in science class? This stuffs so hectic it can even corrode metal objects and cause respiratory problems if you live close by.
So if the water is ponging like your fat uncle's fart, probably don't swim with your Rolex or stand there for hours gulping in lungfuls of the stinky air. Let's hope these sulphate-converting bacteria don't show up, cos besides the pong it could result in even greater fish deaths.
Scientists from Bayworld have collected samples of the dead fish from Sards and will be investigating further.
Red tide - you can run but you can't hide. Super-sleuth Dr Tommy Bornman from SAEON has managed to nail an ID onto the predominant critters in the algae blooms off our coast.
Introducing Protoceratium reticulatum, or let's just call him Mr P. Turns out Mr P is two things, first is that he's lost, second is that he's toxic. Sort of.
He's previously been recorded in the North Sea, off the coast of Brazil and the Southwest Atlantic (west coast of the Western Cape). So what he's doing in PE who knows. No doubt climate change will be partly to blame cos of changing currents, winds and water temps. Prof Peter Britz from the Ichthyology department at Rhodes points out that harmful algal blooms are increasing around the world as ships move toxic species in their ballast water. Any increase in nutrient pollution thanks to things like sewage effluent provides the fertiliser they need to breed like bunnies wherever they land up.
Mr P's species is listed by UNESCO as a harmful microalgae. It's been proven toxic to mice. But that's only really when you inject them full of the stuff. If they swallow it, not so bad. It's effect on humans is still unknown.
A bunch of studies have sussed out the potential toxicity of the yessotoxins that Mr P produces. To date none of them have found any toxic effects when they are present in humans. Just the poor mice don't seem to do so well when spiked with it.
So although no data exists to point a finger at a direct association of the yessotoxins causing problems for humans, the warnings of their potential health risks to us still stand due to the significant animal toxicity observed. It's a tough lil bastard, cos unlike other algal toxins present within shellfish, this stuff isn't destroyed by heating or freezing. Wonder if the perlie poachers will be printing a health warning on the bags of perlemoen they're smuggling out?
So there ya have it - don't feed your pet mouse mussels or oysters. And it would be a good idea not to eat them yourself either. Just to be safe rather than sorry.
Probably fine to surf in it, provided you don't gulp down gallons of it. Brad & Scott - your Noordhoek sesh in the stuff won't kill you!
PS - take a drive out to the Schoenies/Maitlands area at night to go check out the amazing light show. It does depend on the wind & weather as to how big the plankton party is, so you don't know til you go. But if you luck into seeing a rad display it'll be so worth the effort. Even the sand glows under you feet.
Thanks to Dr Tommy Bornman (SAEON), Dr Shirley Parker Nance (NMMU) and Prof Peter Britz (Rhodes) for the info.
UPDATE: Turns out this ID was not correct. Samples sent off to experts in Croatia have returned findings of another, far more poisonous species. See here for more details.
Here's some shots from Friday night at Maitlands. And yip - it really does look that blue in real life! Went and saw it for myself.
The last few night have seen a few glow-in-the-dark plankton parties along the wildside. Here's a collection of some amazing shots of the red tide going blue neon. Thanks to all the photags for sharing their shots with us.
The above 2 shots by Nick Cadle Photography (https://www.facebook.com/nickcadlephotography)
The above by Niki M Photography (http://www.nikimphotography.co.za/)
The above by Karin Anker from Design Studio Photography (http://www.tdsp.co.za/)
Beware of colours! If the blue bottles don't get ya, the red tide might. (and on a side note: word is that some of the ou's visiting Casey lately have gone home a bit green.)
But back to the critters.
Sounds like what everyone had thought was an innocuous algeal bloom might turn out to be a bit more serious than expected. Basically a Red tide is the result of an increased occurrence of some plankton cos of more chow being available. Main culprit is upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water with Mr Plankton in it, which when it lurks about at the surface catching some warm summer rays it goes "yih-hah" and makes hay (or more specifically, plankton) as the sun shines.
The usual suspect is a species called Noctiluca. But this current bloom seem a bit more sinister. Samples taken and currently being analysed by NMMU show that this bloom might be Noctiluca AND friends. Problem being is that one of the friends remains anonymous. No-one can work out what he is yet. Good guy? Bad guy? Who knows?
Dr Tommy Bornman from the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) has been monitoring the bloom and is still busy with DNA testing. He cautions that although the full array of plankton buddies has not been clarified, the fact that they're such a diverse crowd of lil dudes might be an indicator that it could be toxic. Oh-oh.
So, spit not swallow in the surf. Don't eat the shellfish. And surf at night cos the neon-glow from the critters is gonna look super-cool when you hook that big off-the-top.
Critter #2 lurking in our bay at the moment are the blue-bottles. Bit of east wind has plonked them into the inshore area and beach. Bit of a challenge cos the warm water means peeps are wanting to trunk it, but that means lots of exposed skin to get yourself stung in your mielie.
These ou's sting the crap outta you cos they have cells called nematocysts which are found in the long tentacles that trail behind em. These lil critters screw up your sesh by injecting a protein-based venom into your unsuspecting flesh, which can have varying reactions - none of them good. Firstly it stings like crazy, but if your luck is really out then you also get a nasty allergic reaction.
Rule number one is to try avoid getting stung in the first place. It’ll help if you wear a rashie or a T-shirt as it means there’s less open skin area for the terror tentacles to stick to.
Plan B – what to do if you do get stung. First off try rinse the tentacles off you using hot water. How hot? They reckon it has to be over 50C to work, that’s about as hot as you can bear. Chances of finding hot water at the beach? Bogger all. So let’s scratch that piece of advice then!
Next best thing is to rinse em off using salt water, cos fresh water might actually make the stinging worse. And no, don’t piss on it either! The old wives tale about urine don’t fly, it just isn’t acidic enough.
Plain white distilled vinegar like you would find in your kitchen has long been the standard first aid treatment for stings. Its use has been questioned in the last few years and several studies leave us wondering whether vinegar really works. Again, chances of finding vinegar at the beach are also bogger all, unless you get stung at Pipe and you can pop over to Something Good - grab some chips to go with your vinegar too.
Just make sure when you rinse that you get those tentacles off. Peel the buggers off. Not with your fingers though! Grab a stick, a shell, use a T shirt over your hand, whatever. Just get those things off else they’ll keep pumping poison into you.
Keep an eye out for anaphylaxis. Ana – what?? Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can result in hectic itching, shortness of breath, wheezing, tightening of the throat, flushed skin, weakness or dizziness. And if things get real bad you go into shock.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms make sure a mate gets you to the doc asap. Otherwise if you’re just stinging like hell, pop to the pharmacy and grab some anti-inflamm’s and then stick some ice on it.
Moral of the story – don’t get stung, it sucks…well, it stings!
Thanks to Dr Shirley Parker-Nance for providing the info about the red tide.
Not a helluva lot of surf during the past week, but lekker weather and bath-tub warm water have meant at least peeps can get wet in baggies and boardies. Jamie Morris has garnered himself a whole new female fan base thanks to some shirt-free board-riding.
Spots starting with "S" seemed to be picking up whatever tiny waves were about. Sards and Seals threw up enough of a lump to get wet on. Some of the JBay lighties went photo-bombing with Zag sharp shooter Greg Chapman (aka Chappypix) over the weekend, and Dylan was boosting all over the place.
Perfect weather to de-wax boards as it takes about 30 seconds and you go from a solid gooey mess to a liquid gooey mess. Re-waxing is no problem in the sticky weather if you know a trick or two - just grab a small jug and fill with water and ice-cubes. All you gotto do is keep dipping your bar of wax in the cold water as you wax your board and it goes on in perfect lil bumps instead of a streaky smear. Pour a bit of the cold water onto the deck of your board whilst you wax too, same effect - bumps instead of smears.
Sunny skies mean kiff weather to do some street art - and Joff is tackling the skatepark with his spray cans. It's going to look so rad to have it sprayed with some funky artwork instead of Tom, Dick, Harry and Koos tagging their names all over it.
Forecast is looking a bit bleak again for the bay this week. Typical PE conundrum - beaut weather = bogger all surf.
Some weird brown patches appeared just offshore on the wildside a few weeks ago. Wasn't sure what they were as there had been talk of a toxic red tide in the Cape Town area.
Then yesterday I spotted a few in the bay out front and decided to find out a bit more. Turns out they're most likely to be a non-harmful algal bloom, not a poisonous red tide. Shew.
Algal blooms are usually harmless and are part of the natural ocean cycle. When conditions are just right, ocean phytoplankton reproduce like bunnies, creating a thick, visible layer near the surface. These algae blooms - or what we often term as "red tide" - might look really sketchy during the day, but if the critters are the bioluminescent (such as Noctiluca scintillans), then look out for the night show!
This particular variety of phytoplankton glows blue when agitated, transforming dark ocean into a giant lava lamp. If the bloom comes ashore, watch the waves light up as they crash onto the beach in a weird neon blue glow. Unfortunately our patches have stayed offshore so I haven't seen the disco-glow as yet. Maybe someone should go do doughnuts out there on their jetski at night?
So why do these blooms occur? It's usually from some form of nutrient input. On the West Coast it's upwelling bringing bottom nutrients to the surface due to a combination of wind and bathymetry, combining with sunlight, and then "boom"....you get an explosion of phytoplankton production.
These critters are always in our waters, they just need the right fuel to bloom. In the Eastern Cape there are upwelling cells (mostly off Port Alfred) which can periodically bring nutrients to the surface when the winds line up correctly. Another factor which might spark a bloom is when organic nutrients are leaked into the ocean from sewerage, fertiliser, or river run-off, where the addition of these nutrients is enough to start a phyto feeding frenzy.
The blooms in our bay could arise from either one, but most likely are natural events resulting from wind-induced nutrient input from cold bottom waters.
The most likely suspect around PE is the glow-in-the-dark-dude, Noctiluca scintillans. He's a big-ass dinoflagellate, well, big-ass in the dyno world - clocking in at about 2 mm. The blooms usually are thick and bright red/orange and cause outboard motors to choke up (OK, so there goes the idea of getting a jetski to buzz about in them to make glow trails at night)
Other than draining oxygen from surface waters when decomposing or possibly clogging motors/gills/intake pipes the blooms are not toxic. We've had no record of poisonous blooms in the East Cape area to date.
The toxic red tides which affect the West Coast happen when blooms of a specific phytoplankton species die after depleting all of the upper layer nutrients and oxygen and then become toxic. The blooms are eaten by filter-feeders - and then that's why it becomes an issue to eat shellfish from those areas. Cos you essentially eat what they've eaten.
Maybe if you eat our blooms you can glow in the dark when you jump?!
(Um no, that was a joke. Please don't eat the algae! It probably tastes kak, and you definitely won't glow)
Thanks to Tim Parker-Nance, Gavin Rishworth & Dr Gavin Snow for their input
The final 6 months of 2013 at least had a bit of swell, but still not a winter to be remembered. A few decent swells lit up Jbay, Bruce's was beaut, but PE got largely skunked. Most of the good swells ruined by heavy winds. Frustrating. Humewood had it's days. Millers had it's day. Every dog has it's day. Millers has 2 surf dogs. In the absense of waves we interviewed them.
Blood sacrifices were offered in an attempt to summon the waves. Fin vs shin times two. Fin wins both times.
The slipway claimed a victim after a paddle in from Baked Beans went awry. Scary to witness. Even scarier for the surfer. At least only a broken board not body. John had a close encounter with his board, which knocked some sense into him and he finally (at 60+ years young) ordered his first quad. The inaugural Cobbles Classic was a hit - headstands, D-fins and frontzip suits made a come-back.
The SA Junior Champs at Point turned boys into men.
Joff painted walls. Surf Centre launched a surf team. Guys launched at Humewood. Other guys launched themselves into the rocks at Avo's after dabbling with end section Clubhouse. Which was also tackled by a goggle and snorkel wearing bodysurfer.
Winter ended without beginning. Hardly any waves in the bank to survive the spring & early summer drought. Long flat spells saw tow-in skating take shape. Guys on ice-cream bikes charged the skatepark. A summer of sunsets and lightening. But no waves.
The only excitement was the beaches getting closed due to shark sightings cos of the dead whale. It didn't matter. There was no surf anyway.
A long, hot waveless December. Thank goodness I went to Indo. Where Christmas lunch arrived live via dinghy. And went "oink".
2013 over & out. Roll on 2014 - you owe us some waves!
Just another perfect summer weekend. Sun, surf and good times. Coupla waves about. A few hills bombed. A few Bulls downed. A few rays caught on the sand. Crowd avoidance skills had to be top-notch to avoid the floating obstacles in the line-up. Jacques wasn't so lucky & got a dinged board for his troubles. Better than Ridwaan who bust his board at Fence though.
Here's quarter 2 of 2013 in review. Let's take a look at April through to June and see what happened in the surf and on the beach.
April 2013 - a really, really slow month for waves. Traditionally April fires, but this year it hardly even sputtered. Indi picked up his new sponno'd board from Dennis, and went flying straight away. Jorg's board went flying in a somewhat different manner - off the top of his car and onto the freeway after forgetting to do the straps properly. It meant a quick & sudden death thanks to a few cars and one large truck. Looked like someone chopped the nose & tail of Bruce's new board - a weird looking Firewire Vanguard. Despite it's off looks it seems to ride like a dream. Coupla handbags thrown in PA after a jetski muppet was taken to task for buzzing through the line-up and bathing area. A few surfers taught him the rules of the road.
May 2013 - saw the guys starting to hit the new skatepark in a big way - it also saw the skatepark hitting back. Sales of elastoplasts sky-rocketed. The injuries extended into the surf too - with Brad getting his bek slammed by a SUP and chipping his front tooth off - that'll teach him not to use paddles! The new Something Good opened, with a full-on surfer theme. Some more vintage shots dropped into my postbox, some classic Hummies and Avo's line-ups. Quite a few PE locals in the Maldives, bumped into the Heasley's and their crew over there. The surf in PE still seemed to be in hiding, with only a few decent days the whole month.
JUNE 2013 - yrrr, the dry spell of waves continued, another crap month. Luckily a decent swell popped up in the last week of June just before everyone started to question where winter had gone too. Some old Kei shots came through. News of a proposed fish farm just off Pipe had everyone spewing. CYOH launched their new surfboard brand. Jaryd finally decided to leave for Aus after one drop in too many (it must be said, no one drops in on Jaryd with malice, it's all good clean fun, for everyone other than Jaryd at least!). Surf Safe signs went up at the major surf spots to help try get a bit of etiquette going after a flood of clueless beginners into the line-up. Faye wins a team gold at the World Champs.
July to September coming up soon....