The Lower Darling River is a part of the giant Murray-Darling Basin and the country’s most important river system. It witnessed a large-scale loss of fish last summer. That was probably due to a combination of lack of rainfall and high temperatures in the stressed river basin. Therefore, the New South Wales government plans to launch a Noah’s Ark type operation to relocate different species of native fish to areas considered safe. This is because of warnings from researchers about the dire state of the river based on ecological signs.

The Guardian highlights the issue by quoting Professor Fran Sheldon from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute.

She reveals the presence of “only one surviving colony of river mussels” along the river. She also says that there were indications of river red gums being under severe stress. These are important for ecology because they have been there for ages. Their loss could lead to a domino effect with the collapse of the riverbanks leading to soil erosion. It will be difficult to reverse such changes.

The government takes action

The serious condition of the Environment came to light in December and January.

That was when fish began to die in large numbers. They numbered in the thousands and alarm bells began ringing. There have been instances of death of river fish in the past but the numbers noticed now were disturbing. The government of New South Wales announced a $10m rescue package to handle the crisis. Fish that have slim chances of survival in the pools drying up will be the first priority.

The Guardian outlines the tentative plan.

It will be a time-bound program and the objective is to target priority waterholes over a two-week period. The plan envisages relocation of fish like the Murray cod, golden perch and other rare species to favorable spots. In the opinion of the NSW agriculture minister, Adam Marshall, such an action would extend “a lifeline for key native species ahead of an expected summer of horror fish kills.”

Eastern Australia facing drought

According to VOA News, insufficient rainfall coupled with record low river levels is leading to a drought situation. The eastern parts of Australia might have to cope with more cases of fish dying at a higher rate compared to last summer. The loss of nearly a million fish in January at Menindee was a result of algae dying because of a sudden drop in temperature.

That led to decomposition of the algae, a reduction of oxygen in the river, and consequent suffocation of marine life. Officials blame this on the worsening drought but those who worry about the environment disagree. They believe changes in water policy are necessary along with proper management to improve flows. That will ensure “living, functioning” rivers. Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent and experts have cautioned that climate change is a threat to the Great Barrier Reef and critical river systems.