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Millions of dead fish wash up during Australian heat wave


CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Millions of fish have washed up dead in southeastern Australia in a die-off that authorities and scientists say is being caused by low oxygen levels in the river following recent flooding and warm weather.

Residents of the New South Wales Outback town of Menindee complained of a horrible smell from the dead fish.

“The stench was terrible. I almost had to put on a mask,” said local wildlife photographer Geoff Looney.

“I was worried about my own health. That water comes all the way up to our pumping station for the city. People north of Menindee say there’s cod and bass floating in the river everywhere,’ he said.

The Department of Primary Industries said the fish kill was likely caused by low oxygen levels as the floods ease, a situation made worse by fish needing more oxygen due to the warmer weather.

Police have set up an emergency operations center in Menindee to coordinate a major cleanup this week.

State Emergency Operations Controller Peter Thurtell said the immediate focus was to provide clean water to residents.

“There is no need for the community to be concerned as the initial assessment has identified multiple viable solutions to maintain the water supply of Menindee Municipality and the surrounding area,” he said.

Government agencies also began releasing higher quality water where possible to increase the dissolved oxygen content in the area.

“We just started cleaning up, and then this happened, and it’s like walking around in a dried-up mess and then you smell this putrid smell. It is a horrible smell and horrible to see all those dead fish,” said Jan Dening, a resident of Menindee.

Massive fish kills have been reported in the Darling-Baaka River in recent weeks. Tens of thousands of fish were found in the same spot at the end of February, while there have been several reports of dead fish downstream towards Pooncarie, near the border of the states of South Australia and Victoria.

Massive fish kills occurred on the river near Menindee in late 2018 and early 2019 during severe drought, with locals estimated to have killed millions.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.