The government appealed to the public on Saturday to avoid eating seafood or swimming in the waters off Kep province, as a natural—but potentially toxic—phenomenon had swept across the coast of the popular tourist destination.
Although algal blooms occur in the area at least once a year, the bright green coloring and accompanying swaths of dead marine life caused by the current bloom prompted concerns that it could be toxic.
Environment Ministry officials collected a sample of Kep’s seawater on Friday for testing in Phnom Penh, with the results leading officials to conclude that human and animal health could be affected by the water, according to a statement released by the ministry on Saturday.
Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said the phenomenon began around Thursday.
“We have informed the public in order for them to be able to take care and avoid potential health problems,” Mr. Sopheap said, adding that the bloom was found in most areas along Kep’s coast.
He said the situation should improve within several days, and that tourists heading to Kep for the Khmer New Year holiday next week would not be affected.
However, Chhay Thoeun, a deputy director in the government’s committee overseeing bays, said the province had already seen a drop in tourists due to the algae outbreak, adding that Kep’s famous crab market, along with restaurants and hotels, were likely to continue losing customers.
“If it continues to smell bad from all the floating dead fish, I think tourism here would be affected,” Mr. Thoeun said.
“It used to smell like this during the war when bombs were dropped in the water and all the dead fish washed ashore, making it smell as bad as it does now.”
Although officials say the severity of the bloom is likely a result of rising temperatures, Paul Ferber, director of Kep-based Marine Con- servation Cambodia, said overfishing in the area, particularly by trawling along the ocean floor and using electrified nets, was also a contributing factor.
“What we’re seeing here in Kep now is essentially an ecosystem collapse,” said Mr. Ferber, adding that algal blooms can become toxic if there aren’t enough fish and other marine life to eat the plankton and seagrass, which cause algal blooms when they decompose.
Mr. Ferber added that although Kep’s locally sourced crabs were probably safe to eat if they were alive when caught, the government was right in issuing a health warning.
“The government will need to test to make sure it’s not toxic, as it can turn poisonous,” he said.
Noeun Kam, the manager of Kimly—a popular crab restaurant on Kep’s waterfront—said his restaurant was open as usual over the weekend. He said the town’s seafood supply generally came from outside of Kep’s waters and was therefore unaffected by the bloom.
“The tourists have stopped swimming, but most restaurants are open and selling seafood,” Mr. Kam said.
“Most businesses in Kep get their seafood from waters about 30 km away from Kep anyway, but if the seafood is still alive [when caught], there’s no problem.”