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Outrage after large numbers of fish found dead in Australian river

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Hundreds of thousands of fish have died in the Darling River in Australia this week, causing tension between government bodies and the local people.

Among the deceased animals are the critically-endangered Murray cod, which can grow as long as 1.4 metres in length, with some living up to be 100 years old.

According to Perth Now, the sight and smell of the carcasses lining the Darling riverbank in New South Wales were so horrific that it made the state’s independent MP, Jeremy Buckingham, vomit.   

What has caused these deaths?

Algal blooms – rapid growth of algae in water which often leads to a coloured scum – are thought to have triggered the deaths. These blooms can be produced by chemicals used in agriculture.

Algae and dead fish in Dianchi Lake, China

Algal Blooms are happening all over the world. Here, we see an example from Dianchi Lake in China./Image Credit: Greenpeace China on Flickr

Nearly seven years, ago in 2012, Australian Geographic warned of the 'quagmire of deadly toxins' that algal blooms produce: 'With prolonged UV exposure, the cells [on the surface] die, releasing toxins , sucking oxygen from the water and killing any animal life unlucky enough to be in the vicinity'.  

According to Sky News, despite these years of evidence to support the devastating effects of algal blooms, New South Wale’s fisheries and regional water minister, Niall Blair, has argued that drought and record heat is responsible.

Nevertheless, locals have openly disagreed, pointing the finger at the state government and their mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin in order to benefit cotton growers, as well as communities and other businesses upstream.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority confirmed that: “Upriver the basin is about 20% full but in the lower Darling River levels are as low as 5%”.

On visiting an affected area, Buckingham said: "The huge extraction of water for big irrigators is literally choking the life out of the system downriver and leaving stagnant, blue-green algae infested dregs for everyone else.”

According to Sky News  Buckingham’s visit was in response to the viral video made by two locals, Dick Arnold and Rob McBride, in which they are surrounded by the “iconic fish of Australia” while blaming the government for causing this “man-made disaster”.

In the video, McBride says: "This is the result of draining the Menindee Lakes twice in four years, killing the system".

Sky News also reported that Rob McBride's daughter, Kate McBride, has supported the men's claims, saying: “they have survived that many droughts, and the highs and lows of it all, but the one thing they haven't been able to survive is this mismanagement."

 

Read more about how other ways we are negatively affecting our planet's waters here. 

 Lead Image: AP Photo/ The Sun News, Steve Jessmore

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