x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Desalination plant forced to close by red tide may reopen

An algal bloom, which experts believe resulted from sea temperature changes that lasted longer than normal, has dissipated.

DIBA HUSN // A desalination plant, whose closing last week cut water to many residents of Ras al Khaimah, may reopen tomorrow. An outbreak of red tide forced officials to close Al Ghalileh plant on Thursday last week. Yesterday, an official said the algal bloom had dissipated. "Our engineers have been testing the plant several times since the water became clear," said Mohammed Saleh, director of federal electricity and desalination plants. "We hope by Saturday it would be able to resume work." The algae has made it impossible for many fisherman to work. Algal blooms are seasonal and usually the result of changes in the temperature of the sea. This year, however, the bloom has persisted, concerning authorities. The bloom has curtailed fishing and recreational swimming and diving in the area, especially on Diba Husn shores. It has also caused a foul smell that can be detected several kilometres offshore. Mohammed Seif al Shara, director of the ministry in the eastern region, said the Government was still discussing compensation for fishermen who had been unable to work as a result of the bloom and urged all those who had suffered losses to submit formal requests to regional authorities outlining their claim. In September, about 20,000 fish were reportedly killed when the red tide invaded the water off Diba Husn on the east coast. Since then, a cloud of algae has been visible a few hundred metres off the coast of Fujairah. The Ministry of Environment and Water has formed a committee to determine why the algae bloom grew so large and lasted so long. The committee - headed by Mr Shara - and representatives of the region's municipalities conducted field studies yesterday, travelling down 10 miles of coastline starting from Diba Husn. "What we have seen now is the decline in the red tide and if all goes well the seawater would be clear in the next few days," Mr Shara said. Mr Shara urged fishermen and others who had sustained losses as a consequence of the red tide to submit claims to regional authorities as officials considered whether and how to compensate them. Sulaiman al Khadim, head of the Fishermen's Association in Diba Husn, said that in addition to losing fishing time, many fishermen had reported that the algae damaged the engines of their boats and other equipment. "Other fishermen lost fish when authorities inspected the market and found it unsafe or polluted with red tide," he said. "They all need compensation." As a result of the plant closure, some residents have been forced to purchase water from companies whose tankers are plying the area. Others are travelling long distances to collect water from other sources. Diba Husn Municipality health officials said, in high concentrations, the algae produces a toxin that can kill fish by affecting their central nervous system. If humans eat contaminated fish it can cause numbness, dizziness, nausea, fever and even paralysis. Algal blooms are caused by growth of phytoplankton organisms, encouraged by a build-up of nutrients, such as those found in sewage, and sunlight. They reduce the amount of oxygen in water, which can make an area inhabitable for many species of marine life. ykakande@thenational.ae