Regarding the dead fish in Cockburn Sound



Dept of Fisheries are saying they’ve “found the cause”


Imagine you find your spouse dead.

After three weeks of investigating the Police come to you and say “Thanks for your patience. We found the cause of death. It was a bullet through the brain.”

You look at them with crunched eyebrows that suggest you think they’re idiots. They proceed to condescendingly tell you that the bullet passed through the heart, causing it to fail. This stopped the flow of blood throughout the body, which led to oxygen depletion to the brain, which resulted in death. 

They walk away with a smug grin, satisfied that their “scientific” explanation totally settles the matter. 

I know that would never happen. 

But that’s exactly what Dept of Fisheries has done this week. And nobody’s calling them out on it. (If you haven't heard about the dead fish dramas from Cockburn Sound over the last few weeks, go and google it now.)

The mainstream media has only been too happy to publish their press release without questioning anything. We’re told ‘We appreciate the patience of the WA community, it was algae. And maybe oxygen levels in the water.’ (Note, the WA community weren’t patient at all. That's a line taught to fast food workers when dealing with irate customers.)

Ok. Great. Algae. That answers nothing. 

What fed the algae? What caused them to explode in numbers? Why the dead birds? What about the desalination plant? How come no-one is mentioning the effects pumping salty brine from the desal plant into the sound has on oxygen levels? What’s the story with Alcoa and why are there so many rumours flying around about them? What do you plan on doing to stop this from happening again? How will you restock the sound? Why are there kids claiming to now have skin rashes from swimming there? Has the desalination plant been running over capacity? Why isn’t anyone questioning the effects of the desal plant when in 2008 the Water Corporation had to shut down the desalination plant for more than a week to one sixth capacity because of low dissolved oxygen levels in Cockburn Sound? (link)

Why were the real time monitoring stations in the Sound removed at the Water Corps requests? Surely after the problems that happened in ’08 it would be obvious that real time monitoring would be needed indefinitely? (one was removed in 2011, the final two were removed in October 2014.) Were the costs to tax payers really so onerous that the monitoring stations needed to be removed, or is something cagey going on here? (link) (link)

Telling us it was algae and just leaving it at that is not an answer.

And explaining how the algae killed the fish by irritating their gills causing a mucus build up which lead to suffocation… still doesn’t tell us what caused the instant explosion in the algae population.

This is an environmental disaster. It may not be cute dolphins or majestic whales washing up on our shores, tugging on our heart strings. But the decimation to the marine life is as severe as anything I've ever seen in our state.

A local diver, Jason Santospirito, has been widely reported describing the level of devastation. The wrecks in the sound used to be teeming with life. Now: "Everything’s dead, even our resident seahorses."

The fish population in the area has been decimated. Barnett Govt: How are you going to make sure an environmental disaster like this doesn't happen again? We'd like some actual answers. 

Full press release from Dept of Fisheries:

The Department of Fisheries investigations have confirmed that November’s Cockburn Sound fish deaths were likely caused by a bloom of microscopic algae.

Supervising Scientist Dr Michael Snow said exhaustive testing had isolated a spike of a group of algal diatom species called Chaetoceros spp. which have spines made of silica and are known to causes gill irritation in fish that can lead to mucous accumulation and respiratory failure.

“Similar diatoms have been implicated in fish death events in other parts of Australia and also internationally,” Dr Snow said.

“This bloom may also have been associated with low dissolved oxygen conditions which are known to periodically occur in southern section of Cockburn Sound placing extra stress on the fish. We know from experience that fish death events often involve multiple contributory factors that make cases difficult to solve.

“We appreciate the patience of the WA community as the multidisciplinary investigative team have methodically eliminated many other causes.  We cannot afford to jump to conclusions in these cases which must be based on solid scientific evidence. Investigations have included screening for a wide range of over 120 algal toxins and industrial contaminants including heavy metals, fertilisers, pesticides and hydrocarbons.

“Other Government agencies have also pursued and eliminated a number of other possibilities.

Dr Snow said results received late yesterday – and confirmed earlier today – indicate that the algal diatom is the most likely cause. He said satellite data also showed an increase in surface water temperature at the same time, which may have contributed to the bloom event

“The diatom is 10-50 microns in size, which is similar to the diameter of a human hair,” he said. “Diatoms naturally occur in all marine and estuarine environments. They are not harmful to humans. The Department of Health has confirmed the Sound is safe for fishing and swimming.”

Dr Snow said the Department of Fisheries would continue to monitor fish stocks to assess the long term implications of the fish deaths event. 

“Seasonal restrictions on pink snapper fishing remain in place (due to spawning), as does a ban on crab fishing due to stock declines in recent years and Cockburn Sound is also subject to the annual West Coast demersal finfish closure,” he said.

Dr Snow said the Department of Fisheries would release a public report on its findings and provide it to other departments with a management role in Cockburn Sound, as well as the Cockburn Sound Management Council.

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