Australia is to take drastic action after over a million fish found have been found dead in lakes and rivers.The main factor thought to have caused a million plus fish to die in a river in Australia is the hot dry weather conditions, which has triggered drought in New South Wales amongst other locations. Amid these dry conditions, large algal flowers have drawn the oxygen out of the water, eliminating all the fish in stretches of the Darling River. Tides of dead fish are now lining the banks where they are rotting quickly in record breaking temperature levels which have seen parts of New South Wales dealing with a whole week over 40C, and highs of 46C in the area where the fish passed away. A clean-up operation is underway, but water experts have warned that more fish are most likely to die as the heatwave conditions continue. Critics of the regional federal government argue the impacts of the drought have been considerably worsened by management choices at the river basin, where numerous locks and dams control the circulation of water through the river. Irrigation systems also draw water from the river for agricultural usage. In response to the crisis, the New South Wales government has said it is planning to mechanically pump oxygen into lakes and rivers with solar-powered aerators. Minister for local water, Niall Blair, conceded the aerators are a quick-fix for a bigger issue. “Nothing will stop this fish kill unless we get proper river flows and water levels in our dams back up to normal. We are doing everything we can to try and limit the damage”. “They are a Band-Aid solution for now – we admit that” Mr Blair said. However what has been uncovered during this crisis is that the New South Wales government slashed the budget for the river management system by 60 per cent in 2013. The basin-wide program kept track of the health of fish in the river and consisted of a long term strategy with an objective of bringing back fish-stocks to 60 percent of what it was before the arrival of Europeans on the continent, according to one source. Since the cuts, the native fish strategy has actually been abandoned, regular maintenance has been put on the back burner and audits of the environment have actually not been completed. It was especially sad to find that Murray cod at least 70 years of ages are among the native types which have died. The New South Wales opposition federal government has said it will set up a “Special Commission of Enquiry” – the equivalent of a Royal Commission here in the UK — to analyse what occurred and make sure this cannot happen again in future. Expert opinion from the Australian National University said that irrigation of crops had certainly played a part in this unfortunate situation, and that it was one that could easily have been foreseen. The removal of water from the system for irrigation had actually most likely added to the bad water quality in rivers as well as the dry spell which is impacting most of New South Wales. When water is taken from the system you end up with much hotter water and “you produce conditions that are far more conducive to algal blooms” said one researcher. Sad as this incident is, we hope that at least it leads to more careful stewardship of important fish environments and habitats, and more careful consideration of the impact of man-made decisions on the overall ecological balance of an area.
PUBLISHED: February 20, 2019
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