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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Apr. 6) – Experts have yet to ascertain the population extent of dinoflagellates-the microscopic organism that causes a red tide event-on Lao Lao Bay, while the public health advisory to refrain from eating fish and shellfish harvested from the bay remains in effect.

This, as Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Seman yesterday met with representatives from the Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Public Health to discuss the possible occurrence of red tide on Lao Lao Bay after six patients with an illness consistent with paralytic shellfish poisoning or PSP.

As of yesterday, the Division of Fish and Wildlife remained uncertain as to whether or not a population explosion of dinoflagellates has begun.

Dr. Kate Moots, fisheries biologist at the Division of Fish and Wildlife, said a red tide event happens when large numbers of dinoflagellates die, turning the water reddish in color. As of yesterday, though, the waters at Lao Lao Bay did not reportedly exhibit the color change.

Moots said dinoflagellates have plant-like and animal-like characteristics because they can photosynthesize and are capable of movement.

These organisms produce toxins. When marine species eat dinoflagellates, Moots said, they concentrate the toxins inside them in a process called as bioaccumulation.

Moots said the actual cause of a population explosion of dinoflagellates remains unknown, although the phenomenon has been linked to sedimentation and pollution flowing into the lagoon.

Reef health on Lao Lao Bay had been reported to be deteriorating partly due to sediment runoffs from the agricultural areas in nearby Kagman. The CNMI Marine Monitoring Team has been conducting long-term monitoring at the bay.

The Commonwealth Health Center admitted Saturday night six patients who were diagnosed to have suffered from PSP.

The six patients underwent medical attention Saturday night after eating meat from Spider Conch harvested from Laulau Bay. As of Sunday, the DPH declared five of the six patients to be in stable condition.

The DPH differentiated PSP from the typical reef-fish poisoning that is more common in the CNMI. Public Health Medical Director Richard Brostrom earlier said PSP could become serious, with symptoms beginning with numbness, tingling and burning of the lips and tongue.

The mild symptoms can sometimes advance to spread to the face, neck, arms, fingertips, legs and toes. Weakness can occur in advanced cases, and some deaths have been reported worldwide.

The public advisory to refrain from eating fish and shellfish harvested from Lao Lao Bay remains in effect for two weeks.

April 6, 2004

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