Mapped Out: 'Fish Armageddon' And 'Horror Summer' Are Coming
Another "horror summer" is on the cards, with authorities warning of "armageddon" of fire, fish deaths and more thanks to a potent combination of heat, drought, no rain, and river flow issues.
Two startling announcements came on Wednesday, with the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre warning of above-average risks for large parts of the country, and the NSW government sounding the alarm of further mass fish deaths in the state's river system.
"I’m not going to mince words – the situation we are facing this summer is nothing short of a potential fish Armageddon," said NSW agriculture minister Adam Marshall, in announcing a $10 million 'Noah's Ark' plan to protect fish from the type of mass deaths seen in the state's west.
"We’re facing a perfect storm, which could result in wide-scale fish kill events this summer that are even more significant than those we saw in Menindee earlier this year."
Marshall warned that the mix of record low rainfall, record low river flows and high temperatures over summer -- combined with "the worst drought on record" which still lingers over NSW -- could create a volatile and catastrophic situation.
"There’ll be more severe fish kill events this summer and we know there’s not a lot we can do to prevent it," he said.
Just months ago, an estimated one million fish -- Murray cod, bream and perch -- were killed in the Darling River. The mass deaths were attributed to the sudden death of large amounts of algae, with the rotting plant material sucking oxygen from the water, and in turn suffocating countless fish and marine animals in the river system.
The disaster could be repeated in coming months, with the state government warning of a "horror summer" potential.
The $10 million plan will include an "unprecedented" breeding program to grow numbers of the fish; artificial aeration of water supplies; new teams to rescue fish during potential kill events; and a huge restocking program, once "normal water conditions" return.
“This unprecedented response is proportionate to the disaster we’re facing. We’ll create a virtual ‘Noah’s Ark’ for native fish species,” Marshall said.
The announcement came at the same time that the BNHCRC released its seasonal bushfire outlook -- and the news is, again, not good for NSW.
The entire coastline of the state, and nearly the whole east coast of Australia, is in for an above-average bushfire risk this summer.
A combination of high and dry temperatures, dry fire fuel and lack of rainfall could potential culminate in a horror fire season, the BNHCRC report outlines. This year has seen the fifth-driest start to the year on record, and the driest start since 1970 -- meaning there's more potential for devastating fires.
"The year to date has been unusually warm and dry for large parts Australia. For January to July, rainfall has been below to very much below average over much of Australia."
Ken Thompson, a former deputy commissioner in the NSW Fire and Rescue service, told 10 daily that climate change was making fires harder to fight and prevent.
"We can't say definitively that climate change is causing bushfires, but we we can say definitively it's making them a lot worse than it used to be. They're more severe, more intense, burning larger areas than before, posing greater threats to property and lives," he said/
"There are far more catastrophic fires than before. The fire seasons are a lot longer than they used to be. In NSW, they brought it forward to August 1, the middle of winter, and other areas are bringing it forward to September."
Longer fire seasons in both the northern and southern hemisphere means that resources like firefighting aircraft and personnel can no longer be shared across countries, as fire seasons begin to overlap. It also lessens the window to carry out hazard reduction burns.
"In the absence of a national climate change policy, states cant afford to buy the multi-billion dollar fire aircraft. You can't have enough of them, and one state couldn't buy enough that they need," Thompson said.
"It's a national fire policy issue. It's a Commonwealth role to provide those resources, independently of what states can afford."
Dr Owen Price, senior research fellow and bushfire risk expert at the University of Wollongong, said Australia was in "exactly the same situation" as we were last year, with a high fire risk and dangerous conditions.
"The weather outlook and drought only really set the pre-conditions for fire. For a really bad fire season, you need to have those extreme heat days, and they're rare," he told 10 daily.