Fish kill a natural event? Not likely
The only thing natural about this Richmond River kill is that it qualifies as a monumental natural disaster. The fish will come back: less in number and smaller in size, as this ecosystem is slowly collapsing. Fish stocks are undeniably going backwards. Current management measures are inadequate.
Heavy rain preceded this most recent event it did not cause it. The disaster only occurs, on this scale, due to human impacts, primarily agriculture. Radical changes to agriculture are needed: can we really afford to keep killing fish, just to grow sugar?
Scientists understand why the river deoxygenates: flimsy non-native vegetation is stripped off by floods; massive top soil loss from macadamia and cane farms; little buffer vegetation to filter the inflowing water; disastrous flood plan drains which accumulate toxic sludge (and where the toxic water once ebbed back in over 100 days, it now gushes down and overwhelms the river in just a few days); and improved pastures rot when submerged in the floods compared to natives which survive the inundation.
So was it worth spending $10 million setting up and policing marine parks, if the recruits soon to inhabit the park are being killed in their nursery grounds? To be effective marine parks must protect the fish from the real threats currently they do nothing of the sort. This funding could be far better directed at improving the second largest fish nursery on the North Coast.
The scale of the rehabilitation project is massive but, as a community, I believe entirely achievable. Since 2001s fish kill, NSW DPI Aquatic Habitat Protection Unit, wetland groups and local councils have improved river health in some areas. However, until the vast majority of the catchment is repaired, the fish simply wash out of the healthy stream into the toxic flow from a degraded waterway. The deadly result is same.
The NSW Government wont deliver the kind of resources required to effect the repair. So we must fix our river through local means. The river is a life source to this region. It surely must be time to consider a tourist levy (bed tax) as a means of accruing the financial resources to tackle this massive problem, with an equally massive war chest of funds. Please do not slip back to the false position that nothing can be done. Get involved with the restoration.
Dr Matt Landos