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Fish die-off in Polish river is major ecological disaster, cause still unclear

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Przysietnica, POLAND – For several weeks, Poland has been dealing with the biggest environmental disaster in years. 

But the cause of the mass fish deaths in the Oder River remains unclear.

According to TVN24, on the Oder River, Poland’s second largest river, dead fish began to be observed as early as late July.

Fish are not the only creatures that have begun to die out as a result of the contamination on the Oder.. 

“We are also facing the disappearance of mussels, snails, small crustaceans,” said ecologist Krzysztof Smolnicki, president of the EkoRozwój Foundation and an activist of the Save the Oder Coalition. “You have to remember that the river is this ecosystem that is full of dependencies.”

The ecologist also emphasized the role that rivers play in Poland, calling them the equivalent of the Amazon rainforest and the arteries of life.  The Oder is a major river, with its source in the Czech Republic. It empties into the Baltic Sea and serves as a piece of the national border between Poland and Germany.

On her Twitter account, Polish Minister of Climate and Environment Anna Moskwa agreed with her German counterpart Steffi Lemke that a report on the cause of the disaster will be published on September 30. 

One of the assumptions is the presence of microorganisms known as golden algae. 

“There are many signs that the cause of the fish die-off was ichthyotoxin from the golden algae,” said Polish Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment Małgorzata Golińska in an August 31 press briefing. 

“Key studies are still underway that will be able to tell us conclusively whether this hypothesis of ours is confirmed. Also, we are seeking answers to the question of what caused the discharge of these toxins,” said Golińska.

Some also argue that the massive fish die-offs are the result of an overlap of various natural factors. 

Many scientists and environmentalists, including Smolnicki, oppose this statement. 

“Minor water pollution would not cause such a catastrophe because the ecosystem has the capacity to return to equilibrium,” he insisted.

Emergencies like this one can also force people to act and take care of the common environment. The Save the Oder and Save the Rivers Coalition have launched an action involving both Polish and foreign experts.

Magdalena Tokarczyk is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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