Tag Archives: AFCD

Ten Green Sea Turtles Returned to The Sea

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) released 10 green turtles seized in an earlier enforcement action in the southern waters of Hong Kong on Monday (November 15). 

The 10 green turtles are among the 35 green turtles and one hawksbill turtle seized from a fish raft in Sok Kwu Wan Fish Culture Zone on September 30. The turtles were assessed by vets at Ocean Park Hong Kong (OPHK) and have been looked after there with constant monitoring and veterinary care.

 An AFCD spokesman said, “This is the largest batch sent to OPHK since it started helping to provide care for rescued sea turtles. The department is thankful to OPHK for making special arrangement to accommodate the sea turtles and the veterinarians and staff for taking care of them.”

The 10 green turtles weighed from 9.6 kilograms to 23kg and measured about 45 centimetres to 61cm in shell length. All of them were considered to be in good condition and ready to be returned to the sea. The AFCD will continue to work together with OPHK on the other turtles seized in the operation and release them in batches later according to their health condition and the weather.

A green sea turtle being fitted with tracking devices

Before the turtles were released to the sea, the AFCD tagged each of them with a microchip and Inconel tags for future identification. Satellite transmitters were also attached to the carapaces of some of the turtles. By tracking the movement and feeding grounds of green turtles in the sea, the AFCD can collect data for formulating appropriate conservation measures and share its findings with other conservation authorities for the better conservation of sea turtles.

Members of the public are urged to report any sighting of sea turtles to the department via 1823. 

Hong Kong Underwater Photo & Video Competition Winners 2016 Announced

The Hong Kong Underwater Photo and Video Competition 2016, jointly organised by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and Hong Kong Underwater Association, announced its winning entries.

The Hong Kong Underwater Photo and Video Competition, in its 5th year now, received 443 entries this year, featuring marine ecology, habitats and marine life in Hong Kong waters.

An AFCD spokesman said, “Entries over the years have showcased the beauty of marine life and habitats in Hong Kong waters, and have helped promote the conservation of the marine environment.”

The event comprised a photo competition and a video competition. In the photo competition the categories were Macros/Close-ups and Standard/Wide Angle. In addition to prizes for champions and runners-up in each group, there were Special Prizes for Junior Underwater Photographers presented by the judging panel to encourage less experienced underwater photographers to participate in the competition.

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Macro/Close-up Category Winner: Vania KAM
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Macro/Close-up Category 1st runner-up: AU Wai Chi
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Macro/Close-up Category: 2nd runner-up: Thomas LAM
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Macro/Close-up Category Junior Underwater Photographer Winner: SO Chun Fung
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Thomas LAM
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Thomas LAM
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Tang Wai Chung
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Vania KAM
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Macro/Close-up Category Merity Award: Tang Wai Chung
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Vania KAM
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Wan Sheung Yue
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Lau Pong Wing Atim
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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: LEUNG Yu Yick

 

 

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Macro/Close-up Category Merit Award: Leung Wun Cheung
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Winner: Yu Wing Chung
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category 1st runner-up: Wan Sheung Yue
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category 2nd runner-up: Thomas LAM
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Junior Underwater Photographer Prize: SO Chun Fung
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Thomas LAM
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Ho Tsz Hung
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Markus Klemmer
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Vania KAM
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Lau Man Chi Vanessa
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Lo Wai Yip Derek
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Poon Yiu Nam David
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Yu Wing Chung
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Poon Yiu Nam David
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Standard/Wide-Angle Category Merit Award: Lau Pong Wing Atim

I have added the winning video entries to this Youtube playlist. The winning photos as well as the video entries can also be found on the AFCD Chinese page for the competition and the competitions Facebook page.

Two Green Sea Turtles Released Back Into The Sea

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) released two juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the southeastern waters of Hong Kong yesterday (September 21).
The turtles were found by members of the public at the Ma Wan Public Pier and Victoria Harbour in September 2013 and July this year. After an initial check-up by the AFCD, the turtles were taken to Ocean Park Hong Kong (OPHK) for veterinary assessment and have since been looked after at OPHK.
They weighed 8.4 kilograms and 26kg and measured about 42 and 60 cm in shell length. Both were in good condition, indicating that they were ready to be returned to sea. 

Before the release into the sea, the AFCD tagged them with a microchip and Inconel tags for future identification and attached satellite transmitters to their shells. Tracking their movements and feeding grounds provides the AFCD with valuable data to formulate appropriate conservation measures and it can then share its findings with other conservation authorities for better conservation of sea turtles.
Green sea turtles are a globally endangered species. Members of the public are urged to report any sighting of sea turtles to the department by calling 1823 to help protect them. 

In Hong Kong, all sea turtle species are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170) and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586). Of the five sea turtle species found in Hong Kong waters, the green turtle is to date the only species known to nest locally. 

Marine Refuse Study Report Released

Since the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) and extension of the sewerage programmes to cover 93% of the population, marine water quality in Hong Kong has been improving since 2002. Compliance with the Water Quality Objectives for Victoria Harbour improved from 50% in 2001 to 77% in 2014. The water quality of the Harbour will further improve after the full implementation of the HATS Stage 2A later this year. To further reduce marine refuse, the Working Group on Clean Shorelines conducted the Marine Refuse Study.

The report says that more than 95% of marine refuse originates from local sources. And 80% of this locally generated waste comes from land-based sources – especially from shoreline and recreational activities – the result of littering and poor awareness by members of the community.

Of the non-natural waste more than 70% was made upo of plastic and foam plastic items. Non-local refuse (identified via its simplified Chinese character labels) made up less than 5% of the marine refuse collected.

THE EPD is looking at a three-pronged strategy to address the local marine refuse problem:

  • reducing overall waste generation at source
  • reducing the amount of refuse entering the marine environment
  • removing the marine refuse.

The five key measures devised to implement the strategy are:

  • publicity campaigns and education activities
  • support measures
  • facilities to reduce refuse entering the marine environment
  • stepped-up efforts to remove marine refuse
  • engaging the public to report marine littering and refuse problemsThe report also shows that the prevailing wind direction has a marked effect on refuse accumulation, particularly in the Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan, Southern and Islands Districts. It identifies 27 priority sites prone to refuse accumulation where cleaning frequency will be increased.

The EPD will also launch a monthly Shorelines Cleanup Day with schools and community groups as co-organisers.

(The full report is available at www.epd.gov.hk/epd/clean_shorelines)

Saltwater Crocodiles, Local Celebrity and the HK Wetland Park

Did you know that large, man-eating crocodiles used to roam throughout across coastal southern China? Historical records indicate they ranged from Vietnam all the way up to the lower Minjiang River in present day Fujian province and even to the Penghu Islands of Taiwan. As you might have guessed that range also includes the lower Pearl River and present day Hong Kong and Macau.

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Pui Pui-Hong Kong Reptilian Celebrity

On the 2nd of November 2003 a saltwater crocodile was spotted in the Shan Pui River (山貝河) near Yuen Long and caused a media frenzy in HK. For several weeks Australian crocodile hunter John Lever tried unsuccessful to capture it and months of effort on the part of mainland Chinese experts also failed. Finally almost 7 months later on the 10th of June 2004 Hong Kong’s own AFCD’s conservation officers captured the crocodile after it wandered into a trap laid by the department. The 4-year old female crocodile’s measured 1.5m and weighed 14 kg and belonged the species Crocodylus porosus – the Saltwater crocodile or saltie. That is the same species that frequently makes headlines for killing humans (mostly tourists that ignore the eagerly advice) in Australia’s Northern Territory! Saltwater crocodile is one of the largest reptiles in the world. A mature male can reach 6 to 7 metres in length whereas female can reach 2.5 to 3 metres. Young saltwater crocodile feeds on insects, amphibians, small reptiles and fishes. Adults  feed on large animals like buffalo! Wild saltwater crocodile is widely distributed throughout Asian Pacific from coastal India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia to Northwest Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The current and historical ranges of saltwater crocodiles in SE Asia
The current and historical ranges of saltwater crocodiles in SE Asia (green=current, orange=extirpated (historical)).

By August 2004 a public naming competition was held before the animal was named “Pui Pui”. “Pui Pui” is a transliteration of the Chinese characters 貝貝 in the crocodile’s Chinese name, which is a pun indicating that it came from Shan Pui River and is the apple of the public’s eye. Although no one knows where the crocodile came from, it is suspected that she might be an illegal pet escaped from their owner’s home or was dumped into the river after she had grown too big.

Saltwater Crocodiles in China?

Records of saltwater crocodiles in China come primarily from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) through to Song Dynasty (960 AD – 1279 AD); during this time period large crocodiles (presumably saltwater crocodiles) apparently preyed on both humans and livestock within the region. But the saltwater crocodile population decreased severely following the Song Dynasty.

The Chinese words/characters jiao or jiaolong anciently named a four-legged water dragon creature which may be identified as both “alligator” and “crocodile” . The “Dragons and Snakes” section of the (1578 CE) Bencao Gangmu – an ancient Chinese Medical Textbook – differentiates between a jiaolong (蛟龍) “Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)” and tolong (鼉龍) “Chinese Alligator, (Alligator sinensis)“. Most early references describe the jiaolong as living in rivers – which fits both “Chinese alligator” and “Saltwater crocodile” – and spending the tropical wet season in freshwater rivers and swamps. Comparing maximum lengths of 8 meters and 1.5 meters for this crocodile and alligator, respectively, “Saltwater crocodile” seems more consistent with descriptions of jiao dragons reaching lengths of several zhang (丈)”- (1 zhang = approximately 3.3 meters)”. Early texts often mention capturing jiao. For example the (ca. 111 CE) Hanshu records the catching of a jiao 蛟 in 106 BCE. So these may be historical but cryptic references to Saltwater Crocodiles in China. Jialong, incidentally, is also the name of China’s deep-sea submersible.

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The most recent records of the saltwater crocodile within China comes from a record in Guangxi province from the 19th Century and some bone fragments found in Hong Kong in 1922. Although I tried my best to find any information on the 1922 bone fragments, it turned up nothing (if anyone has any information on this and can help, please leave a comment!). It appears likely that the species became extinct in all of China well over a century ago and already dissapeared from most of its Chinese habitat many centuries ago. A sharp increase in the human population in the region about 600 years ago and the widespread destruction of habitat that followed is likely to blame for their disappearance.

But Pui Pui was by no means the last appearance of a large crocodilian in Hong Kong:

  • In 2012 , a 1.2-meter-long crocodile was found abandoned in an aquarium at a refuse-collection station in Tai Po. This was a abandoned pet, though.
  • In 2014 a man living along the coastal Siu Lam area in Hong Kong’s Tuen Mun district said he spotted a five-foot-long crocodile at the waters near his villa but unfortunately he could not get his camera in time and later searches by the police failed to find the animal. A cleaning worker whom the police spoke to also said that a security guard told her that a crocodile-like creature appeared at the beach by the housing estate two days earlier, but it was gone when both of them went to check.  As a result several public beaches including Golden Beach, Cafeteria Old Beach and Castle Peak Beach were temporarily shut.
What happened to Pui Pui?

Three days after its capture the crocodile was moved to Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden (KFBG) where it had access to open-air enclosures, ponds, shelters and natural settings that were more suitable for healthy growth and where vets could monitor it. It then spent the first 3 months in quarantine before moving it into an open-air enclosure. Initially it refused to eat.

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In 2006 Pui Pui was moved again to the newly built Hong Kong Wetlands Park in Tin Shui Wai. There she has a 72-square-metre outdoor enclosure with pool area, landscaped and equipped with infra-red heaters, heat pads and a weighing scale.
The general public got its first glimpse of Pui Pui exploring its outdoor enclosure in the Hong Kong Wetland Park in September 2006. At that time Pui Pui had grown to 1.75 m I. Length and 19.5 kg in weight. Now Pui Pui is about 15 years old, and according to the latest information (February 2015) from the AFCD it now measures 2.46 m in length and weights about 58.5 kg! You can see her for yourself at the HK Wetlands Park where she will be likely basking in the sun or feeding on fresh fish and chicken.

Pui Pui's Home at the HK Wetland Park
Pui Pui’s Home at the HK Wetland Park
Pui Pui’s Fame

In December 2004 Alan Jefferies and Liang Yue wrote a bilingual children’s book based on Pui Pui’s story called “The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous” with illustrations by Mariko Jesse. The story is about a television-loving crocodile named Crafty that swims from his riverside village to find fame in the big city. His arrival is front-page news all around the world, but once there, he begins to question what he really wants.

The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous by Alan Jefferies, illustrated by Mariko Jessse, translated by Liang Yue
The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous by Alan Jefferies, illustrated by Mariko Jessse, translated by Liang Yue

 

Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund Invites Applications

The Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund has opened for applications. The Fund aims to help the local fisheries community move towards sustainable or high value-added operations so that the trade can enhance its overall competitiveness and cope with new challenges. This will allow fishermen to improve their ability to cope with the changing operating environment as well as their own livelihoods.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said: “Capture fisheries in Hong Kong are affected by the depletion of fisheries resources and the trawl ban. Despite the opportunities available as a result of the restructuring of the fisheries industry, many local fishermen remain cautious about the prospects of growth while others are held back by the risks and technical challenges involved. Meanwhile, aquaculture also needs support for modernisation.

“Against this background, the administration has identified five possible areas for the fishing community and related stakeholders to put the Fund to good use, in furtherance of the objectives of placing the further development of the industry on a sustainable track. Projects not falling within such areas will also be considered as long as they are in line with the purpose of the Fund and meet the assessment criteria.

“The five areas are exploring new opportunities in the South China Sea, development of sustainable practices for fishing operations in Hong Kong waters, aquaculture development, accreditation and marketing of local fisheries products, and fisheries resources monitoring and enhancement.”

In vetting applications, the Advisory Committee on Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund (the Advisory Committee) will give due consideration to the project needs, feasibility and expected outcomes. The projects should contribute in a direct and practical way towards the sustainable development of the local fisheries industry. The benefits they bring about must accrue to the local fisheries community as a whole.

In general, the projects should be non-profit-making, but commercial projects may also be considered. Applicants will be required to draw up detailed business plans and budgets for the Advisory Committee to scrutiny. Projects involving commercial elements will be funded on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis. The Government’s contribution will be limited to no more than 50 per cent of the total project cost.

Eligible applicants include legal entities that have demonstrated a close connection with the local fisheries industry such as local incorporated companies, registered fisheries co-operatives, non-profit-making fisheries organisations, non-governmental organisations or social enterprises, as well as academic and research institutions in Hong Kong.

Applications are accepted throughout the year and the Advisory Committee will meet regularly to vet the applications. Completed application forms, together with information of the applicant demonstrating their connection with the local fisheries industry, should reach the Secretariat for the Fund at least six months prior to the commencement of the project.

Application guidelines and forms can be downloaded from the AFCD website (www.afcd.gov.hk) while hard copy is available from the Secretariat for the Fund and the liaison offices of the Fish Marketing Organization.

Source: The Fish Site, 11/7/2014

Red Tides, Fish Kills and iPhone Apps

Today I snapped a couple of images of some pretty right red tide patches in Discovery Bay. But what on earth is it that makes the water go red like this and is it dangerous?

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Floating patch of red tide in Discovery Bay 4/6/2014

Red tide is the collective name for phytoplankton blooms that tend to colour the water. Phytoplankton is made up of microscopic plants that drift through the sea. When conditions are right (mostly when there is nutrient-rich water and a stable water column) some species of these micro-algae form red tides. Depending on the pigments, the massive growth of algal cells may turn the water into pink, red, brown, reddish-brown, deep green or other colours.

"Pink" Red Tide on Tai Pak Beach
“Pink” Red Tide washing ashore on Tai Pak Beach in Discovery Bay 4/6/2014

 

Red tides are a relatively common sight in Hong Kong with 20-30 reports a year. The immediate reaction from most people is to think that they are the result of some terrible pollution. In fact the phytoplankton species are perfectly natural and normally occur in Hong Kong waters, but under certain conditions they can grow faster and form patches on the sea surface which we call ‘blooms’. Phytoplankton blooms by different species occur all over the world and are often seen by satellites with colour sensors.

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Bloom of the phytoplankton species Emiliania huxleyi in the English Channel as seen from space by a satellite. The light blue comes from the seawater and the white calcium shell of the algal species.

Some red tides produce natural toxins, and can cause depletion of dissolved oxygen or other harmful effects, and are generally described as harmful algal blooms (HAB). The most conspicuous effects of these kinds of red tides are the deaths of marine and coastal species of fish, birds, marine mammals, and other organisms. This happens either as a direct effect of the toxins produced or because of oxygen depletion (known as hypoxia) which happens when the algae die and bacteria consume all the oxygen in decomposing the dead algae.
Only some species involved in red tides however are toxin-producing and cause fish kills. The bioluminescing species Noctiluca scintillans which I wrote about in an earlier post, is not toxic but still can cause red tides.
For Hong Kong this is an economic concern because of the many fish farms and aquaculture areas. When a toxic red tide drifts into a fish farming zone only early warning will help the farmers avoid large economic losses from fish kills by temporarily evacuating their fish cages or transferring their fish to tanks.
The Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department (AFCD) of Hong Kong runs a red tide monitoring network which relies partly on fish farmers and members of the public.  The AFCD follows up reports by taking samples from the red tides and identifying the contributing species under the microscope to determine the risk to aquaculturists and the public. The majority of the reports are caused by non-toxic species. If you would like to know more about the network, the AFCD now has a fantatsitc  app for iPhone and Android (pictured below) with weekly updates and the functionality to report red tide sightings (which I proudly did today) with this new app, including submitting  pictures. (I would also recommend some of the other Hong Kong apps for marine enthusiasts out there:  HK Geopark, Wetland Park, Reef Check, Red Tide Information Network and the WWF Seafood Guide).

 

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The AFCD’s “Red Tide” App for iPhone (also for Android). You can get weekly updates and also report red tide sightings. Available in Chinese (traditional and simpliefied) and English.

 

The AFCD started to record the occurrences of red tide since 1975. From 1975 to 2013, a total of 875 red tide incidents were recorded in Hong Kong waters. Amongst these incidents, only 27 were associated with fish kills.

77 algal species have formed red tides in Hong Kong, but majority of them are harmless. 19 of these species are considered harmful or toxic. Amongst these harmful/toxic algal species, only 5 of them caused fish kills and the other two caused contamination of shellfish by toxin in Hong Kong. The red tide associated fish kill events were mostly recorded in the 80’s and early 90’s.

So are there dangers to human health? If a red tide is identified as a harmful algal bloom (HAB) – then, yes, there is a risk:
The consumption of shellfish (e.g. mussels, clams) is one of the most common ways for algal toxins to impact human health. Each species has it’s own toxin so the health effects they cause are also varied. One example is Ciguatera fish poisoning. This type of fish poisoning is caused by eating fish that contain toxins produced by a the marine microalgae Gambierdiscus toxicus, which has been recorded in Hong Kong waters. Barracuda, black grouper,blackfin snapper, king mackerel, groupers and any large predatory fish can carryciguatoxins. People who haveciguatera may experience nausea, vomiting, and neurologic symptoms such as tingling fingers or toes. They also may find that cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold.Ciguatera has no cure. Symptoms usually go away in days or weeks but can last for years. People who haveciguateracan be treated for their symptoms. In Hong Kong with its rapacious appetite for seafood, ciguatera fish poisoning occurs quite frequently. For example, in 2004 it made up 7.9% of all food poisoning cases recorded that year. In June 2013, fourteen men and five women, aged 23 to 71, fell ill with ciguatera poisoning after eating coral reef fish at a restaurant in Sok Kwu Wan (Lamma Island). The fish in this case actually came from the Pratas/Dongsha Islands out in the South China Sea. Ciguatoxin’s is very stable, so cooking, drying or refrigerating fish will not destroy the poison. There is also no effective way to test fish for ciguatoxin, yet. If you want to play it safe avoid large predatory fish like tuna, grouper and others alltogether (they are mostly overfished already, especially blue-fin tuna, so you would be doing the planet a big favor).

So eating shellfish or fish which has been exposed to HABs is the main danger to humans. There are instances of skin irritations and breathing difficulties after direct human exposure to HABs but these are rarer and not as well understood. So to be absolutely safe, I would advise you to avoid contact with red tides – no swimming in, diving under or touching them!