SRINAGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR – Locals and officials panicked last week when they found thousands of dead fish floating in Nigeen Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.
Ghulam Mohi-u-din, a boatman, called the situation alarming.
“We have never seen such phenomenon, so many dead fish at the same time,” says the boatman, who lives on his boat and makes a living growing and transporting vegetables.
He and other boatmen said the stench was unbearable in Lake Nigeen, a breeding ground for fish where fishing is prohibited.
The deaths occurred in only one part of the lake, which is smaller than but well-connected to the main Dal Lake. But pollution is a major concern in both lakes, which are the main tourist attraction in Kashmir.
A record number of tourists visited Kashmir this year, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department. Although this is good for tourism, it also increased pollution in the already polluted lakes and their surroundings.
Officials collected water samples from throughout the lake and determined pollution to be the cause of the deaths. The Department of Fisheries issued an earlier statement explaining that, “This happens when a water body is loaded with high quantity of nutrients along with flow of large quantity of untreated sewage, the growth of macrophytes is accordingly very high.”
During heat waves in the summer, the oxidation of nutrients is also high, which depletes oxygen levels in the lake, according to the department’s statement. Rain then followed the heat wave, causing a sudden drop in temperature, which may have also had an adverse effect on the fish.
Dr. Shakil Ahmed Romshoo, an environmental expert and a professor of geology at the University of Kashmir, attributed the deaths to the high temperatures that have been plaguing Kashmir in recent weeks.
“The trigger for the deaths is high temperature, which leads to high growth of aquatic vegetation,” he says. “And when there is more vegetation underwater, there is also more decomposition, leading to decrease in the levels of oxygen. This was proved by the fact that most of the fish killed were small, as adult fish can survive in low oxygen conditions, too.”
He also cites pollution.
“Having said that, pollution can also be a cause, as increased vegetation in itself is an indicator of pollution,” Romshoo says. “The high nutrients lead to a robust growth in vegetation.”
Authorities used weed cleaners to clear the dead fish from the lake. The Fisheries Department expressed its regret about the incident but avowed to take the required precautionary measures for the protection of the fish going forward.