Sea of white: ‘Hundreds of thousands’ of fish dead in Australia

Scores of dead fish floating on the Darling river in Menindee. (AFP/Robert Greogory)
Updated 29 January 2019
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Sea of white: ‘Hundreds of thousands’ of fish dead in Australia

  • Scientists pointed to low water and oxygen levels as well as possibly toxic algae as reasons
  • Some 700 kilos (1,543 pounds) of dead fish were removed from the river Monday, with similar amounts expected to be collected Tuesday

SYDNEY: “Hundreds of thousands” of fish have died in drought-stricken Australia in the last few days and more mass deaths are likely to occur, the authorities warned Tuesday.
Locals around the Darling River were confronted with a sea of white, as dead fish carpeted the waters near the southeastern Outback town of Menindee.
Just weeks after up to a million were killed — with scientists pointing to low water and oxygen levels as well as possibly toxic algae — another mass death occurred in the key agricultural region.
Inspectors from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries have visited the site and said they found that “hundreds of thousands of fish have died.”
“Further fish deaths in the Darling River are anticipated as a significant number of fish have been observed under stress,” the department said in a statement.
Some 700 kilos (1,543 pounds) of dead fish were removed from the river Monday, with similar amounts expected to be collected Tuesday, it added.
The Darling River is part of the Murray-Darling River system that stretches thousands of kilometers across several states.
Fisheries officials were also investigating reports of another fish kill further south in the Murrumbidgee River, which flows into the Murray-Darling system.
With temperatures expected to rise and no rain forecast, there remained a “high risk of further fish kills over the coming days and week,” officials said.
While the federal government has blamed the deaths on a severe drought, experts and locals say they stem from the systemic depletion and pollution of the river.
The inspectors added that the latest bout of kills were likely linked to “critically low levels of dissolved oxygen” caused by a sharp drop in temperatures after an extended period of hot weather.
New South Wales Regional Water Minister Niall Blair, who visited Menindee Tuesday, told national broadcaster ABC his government was out of options, with installing aerators in rivers only a “band-aid solution.”
Six aerators were installed along parts of the Darling River to give surviving fish localized oxygenated water.
“It’s not a case of not being able to spend money on something, there just isn’t any other alternative that anyone has offered up,” Blair said.
“The only thing that will really change these conditions at the moment is fresh water coming through the system and there is just no possibility of that at the moment.”
Australia’s eastern inland regions have been hit by a prolonged drought, with extreme heatwaves in recent weeks exacerbating conditions.
The late arrival of the monsoon season in northern Australia has also contributed to heatwaves in some regions.
The wet season eventually kicked off in mid-January, with record-breaking floods hitting the tropical top end of the vast continent, cutting communities off and stranding farmers in recent days.
Queensland’s major Daintree River rose to 12.60 meters (41 feet) — a level not seen in over a century — over the weekend.


Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

A dentist at a medical camp set up by volunteers in Caracas on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 29 min 34 sec ago
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Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

  • Volunteer groups have begun meeting in ‘humanitarian camps’

CARACAS: Venezuela has expelled five visiting European lawmakers, an act opposition leader Juan Guaido branded “irrational” as his showdown with President Nicolas Maduro over the arrival of international aid intensifies.
The members of the European Parliament were being tossed out with no explanation, said Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who led the group.
“We are being expelled from Venezuela. Our passports have been seized. They have not informed us of the reason for the expulsion,” Pons said.
The incident on Sunday is the latest point of tension between the international community and Maduro, who is in the grip of a power struggle with Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month.
Guaido has the backing of more than 50 countries including 30 in Europe.
Pons’ fellow Spaniards Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Gabriel Mato Adrover, as well as Esther de Lange of the Netherlands and Paulo Rangel of Portugal, were also expelled. All are members of the conservative European People’s Party (PPE).
Writing on Twitter, Guaido said the MEPs were being “deported by an isolated and increasingly irrational regime.”
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Europeans had “conspiratorial aims” and were sent back from the country’s main Maiquetia airport.
Earlier Sunday, Guaido set a goal of enlisting a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the US, from flowing into the country where residents can’t get enough food and say they are dying because of a shortage of medicines.
Guaido has given next Saturday — one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president — as the date for a showdown with Maduro over the aid.
Food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements have been stockpiled near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia.
Additional storage centers are supposed to open this week in Brazil and Curacao, a Dutch island off Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast.
“Our principal task is to reach a million volunteers by February 23,” Guaido said in a message to the 600,000 supporters who have signed up so far for the push to bring aid in.
Caravans of buses are being planned to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo. Guaido has kept to himself how he plans to overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the aid arrival.
They have started to identify the most vulnerable and have begun caring for the needy in accordance with Guaido’s promises.
Sometimes working under awnings or tents, doctors, nurses, dentists and pediatricians have attended to local residents who can receive donated medications.
Patients arrive with respiratory, skin or other ailments, and suffering from malnutrition.
An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country. Those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.
Andrea Hernandez, a physical therapy student whose mother is a pediatric nurse, is among those offering her help. Hernandez said her mother often “cried from seeing her patients die from lack of medicine.”
Yorger Maita, a helper from the aid group Rescate Venezuela, said that if foreign aid does not enter “other people will continue to die.”
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
US Senator Marco Rubio arrived Sunday in Cucuta for a first-hand look at the aid operations.
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” Rubio said in Spanish.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday.
Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said.
Venezuelans based in Miami held their own drive, putting together 1,000 crates of food to send to their homeland.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Guaido appealed for the military to let the aid pass.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.