CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Millions of fish have died in southeastern Australia in a die-off that officials and scientists say is caused by depleting oxygen levels in the river after recent flooding and heat.
Residents of the inland town of Menindee in the state of New South Wales have complained of a terrible smell of dead fish.
“The smell was awful. I almost had to wear a mask,” said local wildlife photographer Geoff Looney.
“I was worried about my health. That water right at the top goes down to our pumping station for the city. People north of Menindee say there are cod and perch floating down the river everywhere,” she said.
The Department of Primary Industries said the fish deaths were likely caused by low oxygen levels as the floods recede, a situation made worse by the fact that fish need more oxygen due to warmer weather.
Police have set up an Emergency Operations Center in Menindee to coordinate a massive cleanup this week.
State Emergency Operations Controller Peter Thurtell said the immediate goal was to provide a clean water supply to residents.
“There is no need for community concern as the initial assessment determined multiple viable solutions to maintain water supplies to and around the town of Menindee,” he said.
State agencies have also begun releasing higher-quality water wherever possible to raise dissolved oxygen levels in the area.
“We just started cleaning up, and then this happened, and it’s like you walk around in a dried-up mess and then you get this putrid smell. It’s a terrible, awful smell to see all those dead fish,” said Jan Dening, a Menindee resident.
Mass killings of fish on the Darling-Baaka River have been reported in recent weeks. Tens of thousands of fish were found in the same spot in late February, while there were several reports of dead fish downstream towards Pooncarie, near the borders of South Australia and Victoria.
Massive fish kills occurred on the river in Menindee during severe drought conditions in late 2018 and early 2019, with locals estimating millions of deaths.