When a country’s government seems to care more about cows than their own people, is it really all that surprising to see their indifference towards the lives of hundreds of stingrays, prawns and other fish? Hundreds of these marine creatures were washed ashore, due to a phenomenon scientists say take place at the end of every monsoon season — but is that all there is to it? Known as the ‘dead zone’, this phenomenon occurs due to multiple factors, one mainly being eutrophication. This occurs when human activity ends up excessively affecting the natural mineral balance of a water body thereby depleting the levels of oxygen in the water.
One would assume a fish would swim right out of a dead zone. Unfortunately, dead zones leave most fish disoriented due to the sudden drop in oxygen levels, rendering them unconscious in some time, ultimately leading to their death. A major cause of these dead zones are excessive amounts of pollution, differing from country to country. National Geographic attributes a majority of the United States and the European Union’s dead zone problems due to runoff from agricultural fields (animal manure and fertilizers). However, in our case (the developing countries), the culprit is untreated sewage. Untreated sewage adds an immense amount of nitrogen and phosporous to water bodies, resulting in the accelerated growth of organisms like algae and phytoplankton, also known as algae bloom. These algae can spread across the surface, preventing sunlight from filtering through to the water, as well as prevent organisms from absorbing oxygen.
NGO ReefWatch also shared their concerns about the amount of marine life turning up along the west coast of India. Nayantara Jain, Executive Director, talked to us about the various possibilities behind the recent disaster in Raigad, “In this situation, we’re still trying to determine what the cause was. One possible reason is a dead zone. This rough weather can cause upwelling which is when water from the deep ends come to the surface and create an oxygen minimum zone below. Another cause could be algae bloom due to an inflow of nutrients to the sea. These algae photosynthesize in the day, but in the night they use up a lot of oxygen. More so, when they die naturally, they use up a lot of oxygen. Yet another cause could be an ammonia runoff. As of now, these are all speculations, we’re still in the process of figuring out why this happened. We’ll have more clarity in a couple of days.”
If it is an influx of ammonia in the water from fertilizer factories, this could adversely affect humans as well. Shellfish, known to be filter-feeders, absorb chemicals and toxins from the water into their tissue. As fishermen along the West Coast gladly pick from their new bounty, it is probable that these fish could be toxic for human consumption.
In a report, environmentalist D Stalin told The Times Of India, “Around four years ago, a similar incident was observed at the Uran coast of Raigad district where several fishes like the stingrays and others were washed ashore. I feel that besides a seasonal change, water pollution and chemical refuse in our seas has also affected our marine biodiversity.”
Nayantara emphasized on the need to have the ocean constantly monitored by some Government agency, “We should be checking the quality of seawater constantly for levels of mercury or certain toxins in the water. San Diego follows this method and if they sense anything suspicious, they ask the fishermen to stay clear for three days or so, till they sort it out.” While these dead zones aren’t permanent, larger zones in the ocean have formed which are permanent, due to human interference. At this rate, we’re not just destroying what’s left of our land, we’re also destroying what’s left of our oceans. As ReefWatch aptly said in their Facebook post — it brings to the forefront how linked we are to the sea and what we put in her, we put in us.
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