Thousand of dead fishes, including catfish and puffer fish, washed up at Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28, 2015. Photo: Sean Yap’s Facebook page
Worry about marine life mounts as more fish die
By Neo Chai Chin, 3rd March 2015;
As fish carcasses continued to wash up on Singapore’s shores yesterday, marine enthusiasts voiced concern about the amount and variety of wild fish and other animal species affected.
They spoke of the need to boost the resilience of the marine ecosystem as some posted on social media that shore walks in recent days have allowed them glimpses of fish species they had never seen.
Fish farmers, meanwhile, continued to add up their losses from the mass fish deaths that caught many by surprise over the weekend.
“It’s kind of sad that the average Singaporean is finding out about our rich marine biodiversity only after they die and get washed up,” said environmental biology undergraduate Sean Yap, who blogged about his friends seeing a large Hollow-cheeked Stonefish (Synanceia horrida) he had not seen before.
Ms Ria Tan, who runs the blog Wild Shores of Singapore, surveyed nine locations in north-eastern Singapore yesterday and posted on her blog: “The large numbers of wild and farmed fishes that I saw … over many locations on our north-eastern shores is worrying. I hope scientists and authorities are looking into the extent of the mass fish deaths, what is causing this and what steps can be taken to improve the health of the ecosystems to avoid a recurrence of such mass deaths.”
Since 2009, Singapore has experienced several episodes of mass fish deaths. Last year, a plankton bloom and low levels of dissolved oxygen led to more than 160 tonnes of fish lost.
Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai said researchers could consider delving into past research and data collected. “We also need to be concerned if climate change is leading to these events on a more regular (basis) in the future,” he told TODAY, noting that from photos posted, the scale of recent deaths was the largest he had seen.
He said that while red tides, or algal bloom, usually pass within two weeks, there could be a more lasting impact on the ecosystem due to the roles played by different varieties of fish. “I’m a bit worried for birds like some of our Sea Eagles and Otters that depend on fish for their food,” said Mr Subaraj.
Dr Lena Chan, director of the National Parks Board’s (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre, said NParks is concerned about the potential impact of this incident on marine biodiversity here. “We are consulting with other agencies and will carry out further investigations if necessary,” she said.
The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said over the weekend that going by fish samples collected from affected farms, the fish had died from gill damage caused by plankton. It said laboratory tests conducted so far have not detected marine biotoxins in the fish.
Reeling from the wipeout of his Red Snapper (Lutjanus sp.) and Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) worth about S$700,000, fish farmer Timothy Hromatka said he would have to look into relocating his farm, which is off Pulau Ubin. He had done an overall water quality assessment as part of organic certification of his farm — which he received last month — and the results were good. The assessment covered areas such as heavy metal content, but not the types of plankton found, he said.
He praised the AVA’s efforts and felt great opportunities remain in aquaculture here, but said the ecosystem needs to improve. For instance, when estuaries are converted to reservoirs, mangroves and other vegetation that serve as buffers to regulate nutrient balance in the seawater are lost, making the ecosystem more susceptible to disturbance, he said.
Meanwhile, a fish farm has resorted to crowdfunding to stay afloat. Ah Hua Kelong, which said it lost 80 per cent of its fish last Saturday and is hoping to raise US$20,000 (S$27,300) to help pay expenses for the next three months, had raised US$8,391 on Indiegogo as at 10.30pm yesterday.
A more immediate issue in the coming days is the rotting of dead marine life, said Mr Subaraj, who suggested that young children and older people should avoid contact with the dead fish.
Mr Alvin Tan, 33, who goes to Pasir Ris Park about once a month with his family, said he was aware of the mass fish deaths. As a precaution, the businessman ensures his children do not “go down to the water and beaches”.