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Wednesday, June 21, 2000, updated at 11:33(GMT+8)

Red Tides Swamp East China Seas

With a declining marine environment, China faces an increasingly important task in preventing red tides.

The East China Sea has been attacked by red tides earlier and more frequently, often involving bigger areas than before, said Li Liang, vice-director of the Law Enforcement Department of the China Marine Surveillance Headquarters.

According to Li, since this year's first large-scale red tide, roughly 200 square kilometres were discovered near Eastern China Sea's Zhoushan Archipelago on May 3, red tides of huge areas have hit the area, with the largest exceeding 5,800 square kilometres.

Some of the red tides are poisonous, and experts predicted the red tides would extend further and persist longer.

Li took this trend as an indicator of China's worsening marine environment since most red tides occur in polluted waters.

"China no longer sees red tides only in summers, but also in the spring and autumn," he said. "These tides keep extending further into the sea and involve additional new components."

Although the headquarters has passed on reports to local governments about the red tides, any help it might offer is limited, Li said.

"There is not yet an effective way to treat existing red tides," he said.

"And we can only forecast the movements of existing red tides based on weather reports, wind and wave directions," he said. "We can do virtually nothing to forecast when and where new red tides might break out or when old ones will disappear."

"Still, being on guard can avoid some losses. For instance, aquatic farmers can avoid using water already infected that has not yet turned red," he added.

Although this year's economic loss statistics are not yet available, aquatic farmers in coastal Sanmen County, Taizhou and Wenzhou of eastern China's Zhejiang Province have reported major pollution in their areas because of the red tides.

Statistics from the headquarters indicate that the country's direct economic losses from red tides between 1997 and March 1999 was more than 2 billion yuan (US$240 million).

The headquarters' North Sea Branch has also warned the coastal areas on the Bohai and Yellow seas of possible red tides.

"We have already discovered red tides in our jurisdiction, but not of alarming proportions," said Zhao Shenru, an official with the Qingdao-based branch in Shandong Province.

Zhao said the Bohai Sea is the country's most seriously polluted sea and that red tides usually occur there later than in the south. The South China Sea reported red tide around Spring Festival time, but it was not serious. The headquarters' South Sea branch discovered a smattering of red tides recently, but they rapidly disappeared.

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With a declining marine environment, China faces an increasingly important task in preventing red tides.

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