(KEP) – The government issued a warning yesterday against swimming and eating seafood in Kep after a massive algae bloom last week turned the water bright green and hundreds of dead fish washed ashore.
The fish had been cleared and the bloom had mostly ended by yesterday, but local business owners said they fear it will keep tourists away during Khmer New Year later this month.
Images started circulating on Facebook on Thursday of sludgy green water, as well as dead fish and crabs washed ashore, in the coastal town.
“The water was thick – it looked like someone dumped green paint into the ocean,” said Richard Weenink, who owns Saravoane Hotel next to Kep Beach.
Wild rumors about the cause of the green water quickly spread on social media, with some blaming run-off from a Vietnamese fertilizer factory, while others said they suspected a North Korean chemical weapon. According to Ministry of Environment spokesman Sao Sopheap, the algae bloom was caused by the higher water temperatures brought by the El Nino climate pattern.
For most business owners and Kep residents, the strange color of the sea was not the main problem. The algae bloom sucked the oxygen out of water, causing hundreds of fish to die and wash ashore in Kep.
“What affected us most was the smell,” said Mr. Weenink. “It was a mixture of dead fish and rotten seaweed.”
A government-led clean-up on Friday and Saturday removed most of the fish and only a faint smell remained at Kep Beach and near Kep Pier yesterday.
The ocean was mostly clear of the green algae as well by yesterday, but the Ministry of Environment issued a warning yesterday against swimming or eating seafood as a precaution.
“No Swimming” signs were posted on Kep Beach.
“Our announcement is meant to prevent any accidents from happening and we advise the people to be careful in areas with a lot of algae,” said Mr. Sopheap.
There have been no reports of anyone falling ill from swimming or eating seafood in Kep, and it is still unclear whether the algae that caused this bloom is toxic. Mr. Sopheap said the Ministry of Environment has tested fish and water samples, but does not yet know what type of algae caused this bloom.
Despite the warning against buying seafood, people were wading through the shallow water by the Kep crab market as usual yesterday, baiting traps or collecting crabs. Local fisherman Duong Srey said the fishing did not stop last week during the peak of the algae bloom.
“Some people kept fishing when there was green water,” he said. “It’s not easy to make people stop, because every day they do this. If they stop they don’t earn money.”
The fishermen may still be at work, but most local restaurants have temporarily taken seafood off the menu after the warning from the Ministry of Environment.
“The seawater has returned to normal, but we aren’t allowing people to swim or [sell] fish until the Ministry of Environment issues an announcement allowing people to use the water,” said Kuch Virak, director of Kep’s Provincial Fisheries Office.
Not all the local businesses approved of the Ministry of Environment’s warning.
“Some idiots just tried to close the ocean out of panic,” Mr. Weenink said, pointing out that the peak of the algae bloom was three days ago and the sea is almost completely clear now. “What is happening now is a complete overreaction.”
Whether or not it is still a health risk, the algae bloom has caused Kep business owners to worry about a drop in the number of tourists. Khmer New Year starts on April 13 and is a peak season for Kep businesses, with many hotels and restaurants making as much during the holiday as they make in an entire month during the low season. Some local businesses are concerned that the algae bloom could discourage tourists this year.
“I have heard lots of people complain,” said Kim Cheam, manager at La Baraka cafe in the Crab Market. “They are worried that fewer people will come for Khmer New Year. If people come and get sick from the water they will be scared and won’t come again.”
Enviroment officials test the Sea water at Kep. Supplied
Sea water at Kep became green because of high temperature. Swimming and consumption of seafood has been banned