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Fears for the future after mass fish die-off in Poland’s Oder River

Fears for the future after mass fish die-off in Poland's Oder River
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WIDUCHOWA, Poland, Aug 20 (Reuters) – As thousands of dead fish washed up on the banks of the Oder River in the western Polish town of Widuchowa on August 20. On January 11, the local population realized that an ecological disaster that began in late July in the south-west of the country was heading towards the Baltic Sea.

As Widuchowa residents searched for tools to remove the lifeless bodies from the river, the government launched a response to the crisis that many scientists say came too late.

“It’s been the hardest five days of my life,” said Pawel Wrobel, mayor of Widuchowa, which is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the town where dead fish were first seen. “I never imagined living through a catastrophe like this, it’s something you see in disaster movies.”

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With the help of the local community, he assembled dozens of pitchforks, which are used for lifting potatoes, to remove dead fish from the river, which marks part of the Polish-German border.

“We don’t know how to do it and what tools to use, we learn from our mistakes,” Wrobel said.

August On January 12, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki fired the head of Poland’s national water management authority and the head of the general environmental inspectorate, saying their institutions should have reacted sooner. read more

Despite numerous tests of fish and water samples by Polish and foreign laboratories, and a reward of 1 million zloty ($211,775) for information on the source of the contamination, it is still unclear what poisoned the Oder, the second river. largest in Poland.

“We are focused on one hand on stopping what is happening and on the other hand on finding the reason for this situation,” Climate Ministry spokesman Aleksander Brzozka said.

Researchers from the German and Polish Ministry of Climate have pointed to a large overgrowth of toxic algae as a possible cause of the mass die-off. read more

“The most likely hypothesis is that it was a combination of various natural factors,” Brzozka said.

‘SOMETHING IS WRONG’

Locals told Reuters that firefighters and territorial defense forces deployed by the government to remove tons of dead fish were unprepared for what awaited them in the river.

The stench around the waters was so bad that most of them vomited during their work, according to town residents.

Local businesses have also been affected.

When Piotr Bugaj, a passionate fisherman and owner of boats, a mooring and rooms to rent on the Oder, heard what was coming, he knew it was time to put his business on hold.

He asked his guests from the Czech Republic to get out of the water and canceled all future bookings from clients, who flock to Widuchowa from all over Europe for its wild nature and diverse population of big fish like catfish and pike-perch.

“If it is possible with such a tragedy, I would very much like to know that only what was on the surface was extinguished and no more. But at the moment, no one has verified what is currently at the bottom of the river,” he said.

The government has promised support to those affected by the crisis.

Piotr Piznal, a local activist, has dedicated his life to photographing wildlife around the Oder. For the last week he has been documenting the disaster.

“It’s difficult because, in fact, the world that we have observed and photographed with my friend for the last few years is disappearing,” he says. “I think that after what has happened in the Oder it will take years to rebuild the ecosystem… Everything will have to be reborn to function as before.”

Meanwhile, fear and uncertainty prevail among the inhabitants of Widuchowa.

“The dead fish have warned us that something is wrong,” said Sylwia Palasz-Wrobel, wife of the mayor of Widuchowa, standing with her husband on the dirty shore of the Oder. “When the fish are gone, who will inform us the next time a disaster strikes? We would like to know who is responsible for this.” ($1 = 4.7220 zlotys)

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Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and Kuba Stezycki, editing by Alan Charlish and Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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