07 December 2012

Why All The Dead Fish?!

Something concerning is happening in Salalah's waters. The fish are dying and nobody seems to know why. 

I first heard about dead fish floating around Raysut fishing port around 10 days ago. Subsequently, I heard of dead fish, baby sharks and eels washing up around the beach near the Hilton. Initially I thought nothing of it - assuming they were by-catch or discards.  Sadly it seems to be common practice here for fishermen to throw what they don't want from their catch onto the beach rather than back into the sea.  It has become clear, however, that what is going on just now is an entirely different, and unexplained, phenomenon. 

I went to take a look for myself a couple of days ago and found that the beach in Raysut was absolutely covered in dead fish. Similarly, the surface of the water was dotted with bloated, silvery carcasses.  It was a similar story in front of the Hilton (though to a lesser extent).  

Rumours are rife and there has been much speculation as to what is going on, but I have yet to come across a plausible explanation.  Some are claiming it's a natural phenomenon - talking about oxygen deprivation and the effects of khareef on water temperatures and currents. To me this doesn't ring true. Khareef is an annual occurrence in this part of the world and I know people who've lived here more than a decade who've never seen anything like this before.  Furthermore, why would the 'death zone' be isolated to the Raysut/Port/Hilton area (which it mostly appears to be)?

Dead fish at Raysut
Another reason (given by Hilton hotel staff I believe) is that a fishing vessel overturned.  There are a couple of reasons why this doesn't add up.  Firstly, sources at Salalah Port have told me that they haven't heard of any such incident (and basically, anything bigger than a small, local boat, they would know about).  Secondly, fish are continuing to die more than 10 days later. How could that be if they'd all just tipped into the ocean from a boat?  When I went to Raysut there were fish in varying stages of decay. Some had clearly been dead a long time, whilst others were relatively fresh, and some were still alive - flapping and gasping for breath in the surf.  These were not healthy fish. I tried to throw some of them back into deeper water but they seemed unable to swim - tilting onto their sides and being thrown back up the beach in the waves.

I am no expert and any reasons I give are also pure speculation. All I do know is that something is very wrong - it's clear to see.  Salalah has a lot of industry, especially in this area, and it concerns me that there may have been some kind of leak (oil, fuel, chemicals? who knows?).  Either way, surely there has to be some kind of investigation. Has the water been tested? If there is any kind of contaminant then people have a right to know, and action needs to be taken to minimise the environmental impact.  For now, fishing continues as normal, but who can say if the fish are safe to eat?  I have heard some reports of dead seabirds but I haven't seen any for myself.  I can't know if this is related or not and, if so, whether they were killed by whatever killed the fish, or died as a result of eating the fish. 

To the best of my knowledge, there has been no reporting on this issue.  If anyone knows otherwise, or has any information at all, then please do get in touch.

Fishermen heading out in a sea of dead fish


Anonymous said...

Same exact, unexplained event happened in Kuwait autumn 2001. Related? Countries in between?

Dhofar Eco Bug said...

The following comments were left on Facebook by Mohammed Al Mashani (I wanted to ensure they were shared here too):

"it is not in Raysut only it's almost everywhere and we have checked with MECA and M of Fisheries and they say its a phenomenon that comes every certain years and mainly due to lack of Oxgen and it comes with the season of Sardin fish"

"According to the local fishermen this happens very often after so many years and one of the reason they say is the traveling of Serdin fish in big quantity and they cause this....maybe there is something else. There is also near Al baleed area as well...."

Dhofar Eco Bug said...

I found the following article which gives a good explanation of oxygen deprivation in Omani waters. It relates to a fish kill event in 2000. Could the same thing be happening now? I wonder if the resources used then (satellite imagery etc.) are still available? It would be good to a get a definitive answer!


Suburban said...

I think it might be a Red Tide.


Muscat has seen 3-4 red tides in the last 10 years. It's nasty, but usually passes within a month or so.

Robert said...

If it were red tide I'm sure you would have heard about it, it is something the government is farmiliar with and has no reason to want to cover up. Also red tide in itself is often poisonous so there would be an obligation to get the news out. Far more likely is the oxigen deprivation theory. This can happen for multiple reasons the 2 most likely being upwelled cold and oxigen depleted waters due to khareef which is normal and usually good as this water carries more nutrients than are normally available in surface waters, or by the end of cycle of a phytoplankton bloom in which the death and decay of the plankton creates enough CO2 to deprive the water of oxygen which again is a normal part of the khareef weather/water system. Both may happen over larger area's or in smaller water pockets, nothing strange going on. These are the negative side effects of khareef seas which generally bring more good than bad. I don't think there's a conspiracy here though a chemical dump is always a possibility as well.

Dhofar Eco Bug said...

Robert - Thank your for your input. I am continuing to hear reports of dead seabirds though too. How would the oxygen deprivation theory account for dead birds??

The Linoleum Surfer said...

There was a dead fish event in Muscat a few months ago too, so I was told at the time, involving thousands of dead fish on the beaches at "The Wave" and surrounding areas. It was brief it seems.

What smells fishy, so to speak, is that had this been a natural phenomenon, it would have been discussed. Newspapers were supposed to be covering the Muscat incident, then didn't. The usual explanation for that is that something bad happens, and whether censored or self-censored, they avoided inciting any controversy.

Occam's razor suggests that something poisonous has killed a lot of fish and birds. The complete media silence suggests in turn that this is a disaster of which the Government are aware, and reluctant to discuss.