NewsFish deaths in the Oder: New findings on the...

Fish deaths in the Oder: New findings on the cause – the procedure makes experts at a loss

Created: 08/31/2022, 04:50 am

What is the cause of the fish kills in the German-Polish border river Oder? A special type of algae is increasingly becoming the focus of investigations. The news ticker.

  • Fish deaths in the Oder : The first results from experts should be available
  • New insights into fish kills: Salt concentration too high – This is the salt.
  • Evidence in the Oder catastrophe shows that fish kills would have been avoidable.
  • This ticker about the death of fish in the Oder is over. Here you will find the sequel from August 29th.

Update from August 28, 10 a.m .: It is an environmental disaster with unpredictable consequences. Tons of fish, mussels and other molluscs have died in the Oder since August 9th. The cause of the fish kill in the German-Polish border river is initially unclear.

Fish deaths in the Oder: The first results from experts should be available

Experts assume that a high level of salt in the river is a major reason for the environmental catastrophe, combined with low water, high temperatures and a toxic species of algae. According to information from Brandenburg, the first results of a bilateral group of experts on the Oder fish kill will be presented at the German-Polish environmental council on Monday (29 August).

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) meets in Bad Saarow in Brandenburg with her Polish counterpart Anna Moskwa, the fish kill and the consequences should also be discussed. The states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania also take part in the council.

Morgenstimmung an der Oder: Rätsel um Fischsterben geht weiter -  Folgen der Umweltkatastrophe sind unklar.
Environmental disaster on the Oder: The cause of the massive death of fish and mussels is initially unclear. © Patrick Pleul

Or fish die-off: “The causes have not yet been finally clarified” – Lemke fears major damage to the ecosystem

Update from August 27, 11:12 a.m .: Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke expects long-term damage for the Oder affected by the environmental disaster. It is not yet possible to say whether the border river will fully recover, said the Green politician in an interview with the editorial network Germany . “In the Oder as an ecosystem, far greater damage was caused than the fish kill alone,” says Lemke. The first test results raised fears that there could be more serious damage.

“The causes have not yet been finally clarified,” said Lemke. Nevertheless, she would draw the conclusion that it was man-made water pollution – “probably in combination with the heat, which caused low water levels and high water temperatures,” said the minister.

In view of the Oder disaster, one must check whether there are also approved discharges into water bodies elsewhere that will become more dangerous in the future due to rising temperatures, explained the environment minister. “Chemical substances, salts and nutrients are permanently and legally discharged into many rivers. Common sense suggests that when water levels are low and temperatures are high, this can be a greater problem for a body of water than when water temperatures are low and more dilute.”

Or disaster: nature conservation and environmental organizations are pushing for a rescue plan

Update from August 26, 12:32 p.m .: In view of the fish kill in the Oder, several nature conservation and environmental organizations are pushing for a comprehensive rescue plan for the German-Polish border river. “The dramatic loss of fish, mussels and other molluscs, both in absolute numbers and in biodiversity, as well as the unforeseeable consequences for the ecosystem of the Oder require rapid, comprehensive political action,” demanded the German Nature Conservation Ring on Friday. The catastrophe must be used as an opportunity for revival, in which the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany must participate.

The associations also include the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), the German Environmental Aid, the Nature Conservation Union (Nabu), WWF Germany, the Euronatur Foundation and the Heinz Sielmann Foundation. They consider an immediate stop to the expansion of the Oder planned by Poland to be necessary. The Oder must be protected and used in an environmentally friendly manner, which requires long-term funds. In addition, the monitoring of the water must be improved.

Fish deaths in the Oder: New findings on the cause – the procedure makes experts at a loss

Update from August 25, 10:20 p.m .: What’s next for the fish stocks on the Oder? Before the natural disaster, the German-Polish border river was one of the most biodiverse bodies of water of its kind. The water ecologist Christian Wolter assumes that some of the fish survived the alleged poisoning of the water. However, the lack of oxygen that will still occur when the algae in question are broken down could be dangerous for the animals.

In general, according to Wolter, the Oder would benefit “that it has no barrier to the sea. Fish can immigrate and emigrate without our doing.” The fish stocks will also recover, the “high[…] reproductive potential” will mean that “in two to three years fish deaths will only be recognized by the age pyramid,” says the aquatic ecologist.

According to Wolter, however, the planned expansion of shipping would run counter to a recovery of the Oder. The General Director of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, Klement Tockner, agreed with this assessment, since the construction of a deeper fairway in the adjacent areas would cause the groundwater level to drop. Together with the construction of further dams, this would mean a massive deterioration in the ecological status of the Oder. “The river offers recreation, is a valuable ecosystem and retains water in the landscape – at low tide and at high tide. All of this will suffer during an expansion and this can lead to significantly greater damage,” says Tockner.

Meanwhile, Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke announced that she intends to hold talks with her Polish counterpart Anna Moskwa next Monday (29 August) as part of the German-Polish Environment Council. In particular, the focus is on the question of regenerating the river, which Lemke says calls for an end to the development of the Oder. “We now need the shallow water areas for the regeneration of fish stocks. In my opinion, that should now be the top priority. And therefore no construction measures, because they would stand in the way of regeneration,” said the minister on Thursday (25 August).

Fish deaths in the Oder: Probably no impact on other animals

Update from August 25, 8:40 p.m.: Kingfisher, sea eagle or otter – a lot of rare species populate the Oder area. The director of the Lower Oder Valley National Park, Dirk Treichel, is concerned with the extent to which these animals are indirectly affected by the fish kill and may also be in mortal danger by eating carrion. It is assumed that dying fish or their carcasses would be eaten by other river residents, but there were “no finds of dead specimens” of other animals, according to Treichel.

Only two cormorants and five ducks were discovered by ornithologists, but it was not apparent that their deaths had “a causal connection to fish deaths,” added Christian Wolter from the Berlin Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries. Some species could also “evade into surrounding waters to forage without having to change their approach area significantly”, or, like the white-tailed eagle, would generally not eat carrion, explained Wolter.

Fish deaths in the Oder: new insights into salt in the river – is industry to blame?

Update from August 25, 7.50 p.m .: There are new findings on the Prymnesium parvum species of algae, which may have been the cause of the natural disaster. The immense growth of the plant was only possible due to the high salt concentration in the river water and this salt has now been examined more closely. “Colleagues of mine found out that it was table salt. It is well suited for the development of algae,” says Christian Wolter from the Berlin Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries.

Die Nahaufnahme zeigt tote Muscheln und Wasserschnecken am Ufer des Flusses bei Sonnenaufgang.
Dead mussels and water snails gather on the banks of the Oder. The authorities and residents of the river in Germany and Poland have been dealing with the massive fish kill for several days. © picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

He assumes that it is a waste product from the industry. “But I don’t know which process produces such amounts of common salt and why you have to get rid of them when the water is low.”

Or disaster: All clear for residents – despite around 170,000 illegal discharges

Update from August 25, 4:30 p.m .: Although there was the first all-clear on the Oder on Thursday: residents and tourists can go swimming again without restrictions in the Szczecin Lagoon/In the Small Lagoon at the mouth of the Oder, according to the Mecklenburg state government -Western Pomerania. Nevertheless, one cannot simply lean back now, warned Environment Minister Till Backhaus (SPD). “I demand that the right lessons be learned from the catastrophe,” said the SPD politician.

The catastrophe is not over. “The aftermath will change the Oder for years or even decades. As the media announced today, there are up to 170,000 unauthorized discharges in addition to the approved discharges into the Oder.” Backhaus said he would therefore send a letter to Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens). He will send copies to Agriculture Minister Özdemir, Foreign Minister Baerbock and Transport Minister Wissing.

Fischerdorf  Insel Usedom Kleinen Haff (Stettiner Haff) Grenze Polen.Anwohner  Touristen  baden  angeln.
The fishing village of Kamminke is located directly on the Little Lagoon (Stettiner Haff) and the border with Poland. Residents and tourists are now allowed to swim and fish there again. © Stefan Sauer/dpa +++ dpa picture radio +++

Environment Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania: “Or disaster would have been avoidable”

The catastrophe in the Oder could have been avoided, says Backhaus. “The evidence points to that,” said the environment minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, according to a statement by the government portal on Tuesday. Apparently several circumstances had interacted in a fatal way. In particular, a high salt content in the water, the algal bloom and toxins. These three factors might have formed the cocktail that led to the disaster, the minister summarized.

“It is now known that in Poland, saline waste water is regularly discharged into the Oder. However, the water law permits for this are apparently not adapted to the low water levels that we are currently recording due to the low rainfall in large parts of Germany and Europe,” the minister continued. So far, according to the news portal The Pioneer on Thursday, 300 tons of dead fish have been taken from the Oder, citing figures from the Federal Ministry for the Environment.

All clear in the small lagoon at the mouth of the Oder: people are allowed to swim and fish again

Update from August 25, 3:10 p.m .: On Thursday there was good news from the Oder – at least in the area of the small lagoon at the mouth of the Oder. There you can swim and fish again without hesitation. The state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania lifted the precautionary bathing warning on Thursday and also withdrew the recommendation to refrain from fishing. The investigations of the responsible environmental and veterinary authorities did not reveal any conspicuous concentrations of pollutants.

The golden algae, the poison of which is assumed to be one of the reasons for the mass deaths of fish in the Oder, were also found in very low concentrations in the lagoon. “This means that the occurrence can be classified as non-hazardous,” said Environment Minister Till Backhaus (SPD) in Schwerin. Nevertheless, the lagoon will continue to be monitored regularly and water samples will be taken from there.

Or disaster: Huge carpet of dead water snails discovered near the shore

Update from August 25, 7:04 a.m .: First dead fish, now huge carpets of dead water snails can be observed near the shore, and many mussels are floating on the water surface, reports the dpa news agency, citing Dirk Treichel, head of the Lower Oder Valley National Park.

Or disaster due to algae poison: Experts see no direct danger to birds and mammals

“According to current knowledge, only cold-blooded animal species are affected, such as fish, mussels and snails,” said Dirk Treichel. The so-called cold-blooded animals include fish, amphibians and reptiles, but not birds and mammals. According to the expert, the massive fish kill in the Oder does not mean any direct danger to many land animals.

“In similar disasters, it was not reported that warm-blooded animals were also affected,” says Christian Wolter from the Berlin Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB). According to Wolter, there have already been various other cases of mass fish deaths worldwide due to the algae poison found in the Oder.

Algae poison in the Oder water

An algae toxin was detected in the water samples from the Oder. It is the poison of a species of algae (probably Prymnesium parvum) that only occurs in brackish water and in water with an increased salt content.

According to the IGB, unnatural, massively increased salt loads have been measured for around two weeks at the official measuring level of the State Office for the Environment in Frankfurt an der Oder. They should have originated upstream.

The mass growth of the algae also resulted in significantly increased measured values for oxygen, pH and chlorophyll.

The algal toxin (Prymnesium toxins) attacks and breaks down the mucous membranes and fine blood vessels of gill breathers such as fish, mollusks, mussels and amphibians.

After the environmental disaster on the Oder: Experts call for a “cure” for the river

Update from August 23, 4:51 p.m .: After the environmental disaster in the Oder, according to the head of the Lower Oder Valley National Park, Dirk Treichel, the resilience of the Oder must be strengthened. “We need a cure for the Oder,” said Treichel on Tuesday at the environmental committee of the state parliament in Potsdam. Everything must be done to minimize the stress on the ecosystem. According to Treichel, this included the prevention of water discharges and water engineering measures.

There are already many ideas for active action to enable the river to recover, such as creating flood channels and connecting tributaries or backwaters of the Oder. It is also important to continue to revitalize the floodplains as natural flood protection areas.

Update from August 23, 6:13 a.m .: 200 tons of fish carcasses were collected in Poland and Germany by Saturday. The dead fish must be disposed of safely, according to the state of Brandenburg. The fish kill continues to be a mystery. On Tuesday, the environmental committee in the Brandenburg state parliament will meet for a special session (2 p.m.). The State Ministry for the Environment in Potsdam reports on the findings so far.

“Fake News” accusation from Poland: Germany counters in connection with fish deaths

Update from August 22, 2:13 p.m .: The federal government has rejected Polish allegations in connection with the death of fish in the Oder. “We regret that this assessment came from Poland,” said a spokesman for the Federal Ministry for the Environment on Monday in Berlin, referring to the accusation from Warsaw that Germany was spreading “fake news”. The search for the causes of the fish kill in the Oder is still not complete.

“No side and at no time in Germany claimed that the pesticides alone were the cause of the fish kills. It is regrettable that the Polish Ministry of the Environment now understood the corresponding laboratory results as a way of assigning blame.” The German-Polish expert group that had been deployed met for the first time this Monday. It is hoped that a “possible disagreement” will be cleared up when the laboratory results are presented and discussed there.

There are now several organic and inorganic substances that could be responsible, the spokesman said. “It really seems to be a chemical cocktail. According to our current knowledge, none of these substances alone caused the fish to die.” It could be a “multi-causal event”.

Fish deaths in the Oder: the authorities consider several causes to be possible

Update from August 22, 1:17 p.m .: The death of fish in the Oder is an environmental disaster. The entire ecosystem on the Oder – mussels, molluscs (mollusks), algae and bacteria – are affected. A lot is still unclear at first. The consequences are not yet foreseeable. Water samples are still being examined in laboratories, but a lot of time has already passed. In Brandenburg, the State Office for the Environment (LfU) said it received the first indications of environmental pollution on August 9, 2022. A skipper had reported on the fish kill and therefore contacted the Berlin-Brandenburg State Laboratory (LLBB). According to the authority, there may be several causes for the death of fish and species – as of August 22, 2022. Analyzes have therefore initially shown the following:

  • Excessive pesticide values with the active ingredient 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid have been found (20 August).
  • Poisonous brackish water algae: Research teams have been able to prove algae poison. Satellite data confirms massive algal bloom (20 August).
  • Increased salt loads and an associated strong algal bloom were determined.
  • Mercury levels were within or slightly above the environmental quality standard.

Update from August 21, 7:49 p.m .: Research into the causes of fish deaths in the Oder continues to be difficult. The Federal Environment Ministry said the results of the current water sample tests are expected by the end of August. Accordingly, investigations are being carried out in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The environmental disaster should also be on the agenda of the German-Polish environmental council on August 29, 2022 in Bad Saarow.

It is already known that mercury is not the trigger. “The latest results of the IGB and the University of Vienna confirm the suspicion that there was a mass development of toxic brackish water algae in the Oder, which could be responsible for the fish kills,” according to the German Ministry of the Environment. The fish kill could also have been caused by a combination of several factors.

Fischsterben am Fluss Oder: Ein toter Blei liegt am frühen Morgen im flachen Wasser vom deutsch-polnischen Grenzfluss Oder.
Fish kill on the Oder river: A dead lead lies in the shallow water of the German-Polish border river Oder in the early morning. © Patrick Pleul/dpa

Environmental disaster on the Oder: Poland boosts the oxygen supply in the water with pumps in West Pomerania

Meanwhile, Poland is apparently working on boosting the oxygen supply to the fish in the river. This was announced by the head of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, Zbiegniew Bogucki, on Twitter on Sunday evening. There are already 17 pumps in the water for this purpose, and two more are to follow on Sunday.

On Saturday, Bogucki had already said that many fish would swim to the surface due to the lack of oxygen in the water and would be on the verge of suffocation. The politician posted a corresponding video. But at the same time he also gave hope: “Where we salvaged tons of dead fish a few days ago, living fish have now been sighted,” Bogucki wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Extent of the environmental disaster in the Oder: 200 tons of dead fish collected

Tote Fische
The reasons for the massive fish deaths in the Oder are still unclear. © Patrick Pleul/dpa

Update from August 21, 3:35 p.m .: The cause of the environmental disaster remains unclear on Sunday. But the extent is becoming increasingly clear: by Saturday around 200 tons of dead fish had been collected in Poland and Germany. The Polish fire brigade put the amount on Saturday at 158 tons. According to the Ministry of the Interior in Warsaw, more than 3,000 firefighters, more than 2,000 police officers and 1,300 soldiers were involved in salvaging the carcasses in Poland. Brandenburg had already reported at least 36 tons of dead fish in an earlier statement from the Ministry of the Environment.

Environmental disaster in the Oder: Poisoned river killed endangered sturgeons

Update from August 21, 2:55 p.m .: According to the WWF, the ecological disaster in the Oder has had an enormous impact on the resettlement of the sturgeon in the areas. The fish, which are threatened with extinction, are being resettled in Germany in the Elbe and in the Oder to preserve their species. Due to the poisonous wave in the Oder, 20,000 young sturgeons died in a breeding facility of the Institute for Aquatic Ecology and Inland Fisheries, as the WWF reported on Sunday in Berlin.

“The dead young sturgeons are only a small part of the environmental drama,” explained Finn Viehberg from WWF Germany. However, they symbolized “how human carelessness leads to the loss of nature and biodiversity”. It must now be checked whether the food supply for the surviving or returning sturgeons is sufficient after the mass death of fish.

Poland’s government accuses Germany of “fake news”.

First report from August 21 : Warsaw/Frankfurt – The cause of the massive fish kill in the Oder is still not known. More than 36 tons of dead fish have now been pulled out of the Oder in Germany alone. The Berlin-Brandenburg state laboratory has now found elevated levels of pesticides in the Oder. The Polish government therefore speaks of false reports from Germany.

Fish deaths in the Oder: Poland contradicts findings from Germany

On Saturday (August 20), the Brandenburg Environment Ministry announced that high concentrations of a pesticide containing the active ingredient 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid had been found in the Oder. The active ingredient is used, for example, to combat weeds. However, the detected dose is not directly lethal to the fish. The Ministry of the Environment continues to assume that there are several causes for the environmental disaster.

Poland’s government contradicts these findings and accused Germany of spreading fake news. “Attention, another fake news is being spread in Germany!!! pesticides and herbicides. In Poland, the substance was tested and found to be below the limit of quantification, ie with no effects on fish or other animals and no link to fish kills,” Poland’s Environment Minister Anna Moskwa wrote on Twitter on Saturday evening.

Poland criticizes Germany: “Unjustified attack on agriculture”

The substances were not detected in fish, Moskva said in another tweet, “An unjustified attack on agriculture. First industry, now agriculture? What’s next?” Poland’s national conservative PiS government is not only under pressure domestically because Polish authorities were hesitant to react to the first indications of the fish kill.

Criticism also came from Germany that Polish authorities had not complied with the internationally agreed information chains. Representatives of the PiS repeatedly responded with anti-German tones – and with attacks on the Polish opposition. (sf/dpa)

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