Lack of oxygen killed Durban fish

2008-01-05 00:00

Scientific measures indicate that a toxic chemical could not have killed thousands of fish and crabs that washed up across Durban harbour last month, eThekwini’s municipal manager Dr Michael Sutcliffe said this week.

In fact, after extensive investigation, the only certainty is that the marine life succumbed to a combination of heat and organic mass that caused oxygen levels in the water to plummet.

Fish could not breathe and died. At the time, environmentalists claimed that there was a strong smell of hydrogen sulphide in the air and demanded that the municipality find the culprit.

Sutcliffe warned environmentalists to make sure their information is correct and not waste the municipality's time and money on “wild goose chases”.

“We must guard against spurious information being reported as fact. This has hindered the municipality in its investigations and at a cost to the ratepayer.

“Where a hoax is discovered in future, the costs incurred will be recovered from the informant. These people are just as bad as the polluters since they lead us on wild goose chases and may prevent us from finding the offenders.”

He said that repeated scientific measurements over the past week, backed up the view that the fish kill was caused by a surge in organic load into the headwaters of the harbour.

“The assertion by some individuals that this was caused by a toxic chemical has been refuted as this would not have depressed the oxygen levels to the large spatial extent observed. The investigation into exactly which company, individual or organisation might have been, responsible is ongoing,” Sutcliffe said.

He added that an investigation team is evaluating all possibilities. “These range from waste-management practices within the port and in the catchment … , the recent spate of rains … and the fact that there could be industrial effluent discharges being illegally connected into the storm water system,” he said.

The municipality and National Ports Authority have safely disposed of the dead fish in designated landfill sites.

Despite Sutcliffe’s statement and warnings, D’Sa is not prepared to accept the explanation or back down. “There certainly aren’t any natural causes that caused the death of those fish,” D’Sa stated.

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