Inspectorate wants study into fish mortality causes

POSTED: 10/28/13 12:29 PM

Dead fish cleanup

Vromi-Ministry employees cleared away hundreds of dead fish last Wednesday. Photo Today / Milton Pieters

St. Maarten -Last week’s massive fish die off in sections of the Great Salt Pond especially in the area close to Firgos Paper on the Illidge Road has triggered a collaboration between the Ministry of Public Health’s Inspectorate and the Ministry of Vromi to tackle this recurring problem. In a release last night, the Inspectorate stated that the fish die off had surpassed the realm of environmental concern and was now being viewed as a public health problem. Its recommendation is that an in depth study be carried out to fully document the causes of the fish mortality, with solutions to mitigate the problem.

“It is therefore of high importance to do an in-depth analyses of what exactly is occurring in the Great Salt Pond, also as it relates to heavy metals and any other toxins that leech into the Great Salt Pond through unsustainable human impact on of the last remaining water bodies of the island.

As it is an environmental issue resulting in a public health risk it is of great importance for these two Ministries to combine efforts as well as consult the environmental NGO’s that have a history of handling such issues as well as having at-hand knowledge of environmental health. Furthermore advice will have to be sought from experts on the tilapia fish and toxicological investigations of the fish will have to be performed,” the Inspectorate’s Director Dr. Earl Best said.

Dr. Best added that the authorities are trying to move away from the reactive clean-up efforts in favor for more proactive approaches. He indicated that the consequent pungent smell, flies and traffic congestion that accompanies cleanup efforts of the affected areas has also become a nuisance to many residents.

“It is a known fact that fish bio-accumulate toxins which can affect human health. Without knowing what the exact cause of the fish mortality is and what the quality is of the fish residing in the Great Salt Pond, it is highly recommended not to consume any fish products acquired from the Pond. This, at least until the fish mortality issue is resolved and the water quality of the historical Great Salt Pond is enhanced,” the Inspectorate recommended.

During many of the prior massive fish mortality the Nature Foundation has analyzed water samples from the affected area showing exactly that, the nutrient concentrations are far from optimal and the dissolved oxygen levels being low, pH levels being subpar and coliform bacteria being present. The high levels of ammonia also correspond to the behavior shown by the tilapia prior to succumbing to the elements. It is however of importance to know that all these elements are interrelated, with one concentration or element affecting the other due to chemical bonds being either broken or created.

Tilapia mortality has increased over the last few years. “The introduction of the non-indigenous tilapia species has come with some positive aspects as they are known to eat mosquito larvae and thrive on nutrients otherwise unused by other organisms, thereby being known as a species to thrive in poor water quality. They grow rapidly and can tolerate high fish densities. This however brings along negative consequences to the natural ecosystem; they can out-compete the naturally occurring species and thereby disturb a natural equilibrium. As they are quite a resilient fish species (except for their non-resistance to colder waters) it is hard to eliminate such a species which is also known as one of the top 100 World’s Worst Alien Invasive Species by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).”

The Inspectorate concluded that like other Small Island Developing States, St. Maarten faces several sustainable developmental challenges including small but growing populations, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, excessive dependence on international trade, and fragile environments.

“The latter is an issue that has not gotten as much attention as deserved. Over the past few decades focus was more on development and not on the environmental issues at hand, which can largely be attributed to the anthropogenic factors associated with the development,” it stated.

 

 

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