Snapper is one of hundreds of species that can cause Ciguatera poisoning. NOAA

Introducing a nauseating illness that makes hot things feel cold and cold things feel hot.

Feast on a fish that’s consumed a special kind of microorganism and you might start experiencing peculiar symptoms: nausea, vomiting, tingling in the extremities, and for the real lucky ones, a disorienting sensation that makes “cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold” (per the CDC).

These are the trademarks of Ciguatera poisoning, caused by dining on a fish that itself has dined on neurotoxin-producing Gambierdiscus toxicus algae, which abound in the balmy waters of the Caribbean. Though symptoms usually go away in a few days, in some cases they persist for years, and there is no known cure. Fish that have been implicated in cases of Ciguatera include many restaurant favorites, including varieties of grouper, amberjack, and snapper.

Gambierdiscus carolinianus (NOAA)

With the oceans warming like a jacuzzi, residents of the Southeast and Gulf coasts can expect to see many more cases of this retching malady, according to a study from NOAA and others. That’s because the algae will be able to live farther north as the seas get hotter, and the fish that eat them will more often wind up in our nets. Here’s more from NOAA:

For this study, researchers projected water temperatures in the greater Caribbean through the year 2099, based on 11 global climate models and data from NOAA buoys in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Forecasted temperature changes were then used to project the effects of ocean warming on the growth, abundance and distribution of two groups of ciguatera-causing algae (Gambierdiscus and Fukuyoa).

More than 400 fish species are known to become toxic. In U.S. waters, ciguatera occurs in Hawaii, Guam, southern Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and occasionally in the Gulf of Mexico, extending around the southeast U.S. coast as far north as North Carolina. Ciguatera impedes development of fisheries resources in many regions of the world. Toxins produced by Gambierdiscus contaminate marine animals such as corals and seaweeds, and the carnivores that feed upon them, causing toxins to move into the food chain.

“Contaminated fish have no specific taste, color, or smell and there is no easy method for measuring ciguatoxins,” said Steve Kibler, a NOAA scientist and the study’s lead author. “However, we can forecast risk based on where and when we are likely to find the algae that produce ciguatoxins.” The forecast will allow communities to target monitoring, saving resources by focusing only on areas and times when ciguatera is likely to be present.

Chalk this one down as another dismal health implication of warmer oceans, right next to the algal neurotoxins that’ve kneecapped this year’s West Coast crabbing season.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a wallet full of Yen bills.
    Life

    Japan’s Lost-and-Found System Is Insanely Good

    If you misplace your phone or wallet in Tokyo, chances are very good that you’ll get it back. Here’s why.

  2. photo: bicyclists in Paris during a transit strike in December.
    Transportation

    What It Would Take to Make Paris a ‘15-Minute City’

    In her re-election campaign, Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that every Paris resident should be able to meet their essential needs within a short walk or bike ride.

  3. Equity

    The Presidential Candidates that Mayors Support

    Big-city mayors favor Mike Bloomberg after his late entry into the race, while leaders in smaller cities have lined up behind Pete Buttigieg.

  4. Design

    How We Map Epidemics

    Cartographers are mapping the coronavirus in more sophisticated ways than past epidemics. But visualizing outbreaks dates back to cholera and yellow fever.

  5. photo: Masdar City in Abu Dhabi
    Environment

    What Abu Dhabi’s City of the Future Looks Like Now

    At the UN’s World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, attendees toured Masdar City, the master-planned eco-complex designed to show off the UAE’s commitment to sustainability.

×