Mysterious Fish Deaths Around the World

We recently reported that hundreds of dead fish are washing up on the shores of Lake Erie in the U.S. Now we?ve learned that an official investigation in Kuwait has been unable to determine the cause of death of 1,000 tons of fish washed up on its shores. Environment officials have suggested that a heat wave which has sent water temperatures soaring might be to blame.

The government responded to the sudden influx of dead fish by imposing a ban on fishing in Kuwaiti waters and setting up a committee to examine the issue. But the committee has failed to discover the cause of the phenomenon. ?A thousand tons of dead fish have been found [since mid-August],? the committee reported.

Government spokesman Rasheed Al-Rushud says that foreign experts may be brought in to help solve the mystery. He was quoted as saying that oil minister Adil Al-Subih had assured them that the country?s many oil companies were not the source of the problem through any chemical discharge in the water.

A Kuwaiti newspaper report suggests other possible causes, including dumped toxic waste, radioactive sediment or contaminated material from Iraq or Iran, such as depleted uranium.

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Red Tides have plagued coastal communities for centuries. Without warning, the ocean turns a shade of reddish brown, killing scores of fish. Red tides are blooms of toxic algae, and in the past they have killed huge numbers of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. They can also trigger skin and respiratory problems in humans.

A new study, partially funded by NASA, has revealed a surprising connection between red tides in the Gulf of Mexico and giant dust clouds that blow across the Atlantic Ocean from the distant Sahara Desert. NOAA and NASA satellites can spot such dust clouds on the way from Africa to the Americas, raising hopes that space-based data could help scientists predict when red tides will strike the Gulf coast.

?The West Florida shelf is a hot spot for fishing, aquaculture and tourism, all of which can be drastically affected by a surprise visit from a red tide,? says Jason Lenes, a graduate student at University of South Florida?s College of Marine Science, who is researching the connection.

Storm activity in the Sahara Desert region kicks up fine particles of sand from the topsoil there, generating vast clouds of dust. Easterly trade winds carry the dust across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Gulf of Mexico. The new study shows that these clouds dump iron into the water off the West Florida coast. When iron levels go up, bacteria called Trichodesmium convert nitrogen in the water into a form usable by other marine life. The addition of biologically usable nitrogen in the water creates a good environment for toxic algae.

?This is one of the first studies that quantitatively measured iron from the dust and [linked] it to red tides through Trichodesmium,? says Lenes. Scientists have worked for years to develop a reliable method for predicting red tides, particularly because they can be both physically and economically devastating to a region.

Humans who swim in the Gulf during a red tide can experience respiratory problems by breathing toxins that get in the air. Also, eating shellfish poisoned by red tides can lead to paralysis and memory problems. Around the Gulf of Mexico, scientists have recorded fish kills totaling in the millions and manatee deaths in the hundreds resulting from a single red tide bloom.

Scientists will now be able to forecast red tides by using satellites to monitor dust arrivals. ?If you could predict when a red tide is coming, you could close beaches and fisheries ahead of time,? Lenes says.

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The reason for one recent fish kill is no secret: a brewery worker accidentally sent 77,500 gallons of beer into a river, killing thousands of fish. The employee at Coors Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado says he pulled the wrong switch.

The beer washed through a wastewater treatment plant and flooded into Clear Creek, where the fish suffocated from the alcohol.

A Coors spokeswoman says, ?Somebody made a mistake. We?re trying to track down how it happened so it doesn?t happen again.?

The Colorado Department of Public Health advised residents to avoid that part of the river because of a small bacterial risk. Scott Hoover of the state wildlife division says, ?There are probably 200 to 300 fish right here in probably a 20- to 30-yard stretch.?

To learn more about this, click here. Insight: Despite what some scientists are saying, serious shark attacks are up worldwide, as evidenced by recent events along the US Atlantic coast. Could it be that this problem is more widespread than now appears to be the case, and sharks are having their food supply interrupted? If so, then it is possible that the marine food chain has been disrupted in some way. We intend to keep a close watch on this seemingly secondary story. The collapse of ocean food chains would be the most serious environmental event in history.

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