Fear for the future after the mass death of fish in the Polish Oder

Fear for the future after the mass death of fish in the Polish Oder

WIDUCHOWA, Poland, Aug 20 (Portal) – As thousands of dead fish approached the banks of the Oder River in the village of Widuchowa in western Poland on August 11, locals recognized an ecological disaster that began in late July in the country’s south-west controlled area towards the Baltic Sea.

As Widukhova residents searched for tools to remove the lifeless bodies from the river, the government launched an emergency response that many scientists say came too late.

“It was the hardest five days of my life,” said Pawel Wrobel, the mayor of Widuchowa, some 400 kilometers from the town where dead fish were first spotted. “I never thought I’d see a catastrophe like this, that’s what you see in disaster movies.”

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With the help of the local community, he collected dozens of pitchforks used to lift potatoes to remove dead fish from the river that marks part of the Polish-German border.

“We don’t know how to do it and what tools to use, we learn from our mistakes,” Wrobel said.

On August 12, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed the head of Poland’s national water management agency and the head of general environmental inspection, saying their institutions should have reacted earlier. Continue reading

Despite numerous tests of fish and water samples conducted by Polish and foreign laboratories and a 1 million zloty ($211,775) reward for information on the source of the contamination, it is still unclear what caused the Oder, Poland’s second largest river, has poisoned.

“We are focused on stopping what happened on the one hand and finding the reason for this situation on the other,” said Climate Ministry spokesman Aleksander Brzozka.

Researchers from the German and Polish climate ministries have pointed to heavy growth of toxic algae as a possible cause of the mass extinction. Continue reading

“The most likely hypothesis is that it was a combination of different natural factors,” Brzozka said.


Dead fish from the Oder River are pictured as water pollution is believed to be the cause of a mass die-off of fish in the village of Widuchowa, Poland, August 17, 2022. Portal/Kuba Stezycki

Continue reading

Locals told Portal that firefighters and territorial defense forces deployed by the government to remove tons of dead fish were unprepared for what awaited them in the river.

The stench around the water was so bad that most of them vomited while working, according to villagers.

Local businesses are also affected.

When Piotr Bugaj, a passionate fisherman and owner of boats, slipways and room rentals on the Oder, heard what was coming, he knew it was time to put his business on hold.

He asked his guests from the Czech Republic to get off the water and canceled all future reservations from customers who flock to Widuchowa from across Europe because of its wilderness and diverse population of large fish like catfish and zander.

“If it’s possible with a tragedy like this, I’d really like to know that only what was on the surface is extinct and nothing more. But at the moment nobody has checked what is currently on the bottom of the river,” he said.

The government has pledged support to those affected by the crisis.

Piotr Piznal, a local activist, has dedicated his life to photographing wildlife around the Oder River. He has been documenting the catastrophe for a week.

“It’s hard because the world that we’ve been observing and photographing with my boyfriend for the last few years is actually disappearing,” he says. “I think that after what happened in the Oder, it will take years to rebuild the ecosystem… It all needs to be reborn to work the way it has worked so far.”

Meanwhile, fear and insecurity prevail among the residents of Widukhova.

“The dead fish warned us that something was wrong,” says Sylwia Palasz-Wrobel, wife of the mayor of Widuchowa, who is standing next to her husband on the putrid bank of the Oder. “Once the fish are gone, who will inform us next when a disaster happens? We would like to know who is responsible for this.” ($1 = 4.7220 zlotys)

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Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and Kuba Stezycki, editing by Alan Charlish and Alex Richardson

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