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Sunday July 25th, 2021

Sri Lanka links some turtle deaths to X-Press Pearl fire, whale death probed

UNUSUAL DEATHS: Moray eels and bottom-dwelling demersal and semi-demersal fish species such as Giant Trevally and Goldsilk Seabream had also turned up on Sri Lanka’s shores surprising researchers.

ECONOMYNEXT- Several dead turtles that turned up on Sri Lanka’s beaches after a container vessel caught fire and sank off Colombo Port had burn injuries, other marine animals had plastic nurdles in their stomachs and investigations were underway on a dead whale, officials said.

X-Press Pearl, a containers ship with hundreds of tonnes of chemical and plastic nurdles on board, blazed away for several days over May, and partially burnt debris and tonnes of nurdles had turned up on Sri Lanka’s shores along with dead animals.

“We can provisionally say there are two ways [the animals died], one is death by burnt injuries due to the heat secondly we can say death due to the chemicals,” Secretary to the Ministry of Environment Anil Jasinghe said.

“It is clearly seen other than that there could be other reasons, that’s why post mortem investigations are done,” he said.

Other fish and turtles had apparently died due to different causes, which were being investigated.

“When the carcases of turtles were found when the fire was still burning in the vessel they had burns,” Ruchira Kumaratunga, a professor at Sri Lanka’s University of Ruhuna, who is leading a team of marine biologists to assess the fallout of the X-Press Pearl incident said.

“But later they had died in a different way.”

According to media reports over 30 turtles have turned up on Sri Lanka’s beaches.

Coast Conservation Minister Nalaka Godahewa said some dead turtles turn up each year during the monsoon ‘warakan’ season and past statistics are needed to find excess deaths.

Some fishermen interviewed on television have also made similar claims.

Chairperson of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA)  Dharshani Lahandapura said that the team is collecting data on the deaths reported in prior years to find the excess deaths this year.

“The task of our scientific team is to gather data and total the number of deaths of fish and turtles reported in the period of the MV X-Press Pearl disaster,” she said.

“Then find how many deaths have been reported in the past years in the same time period, whether there was a similar kind of damage and compare them,”

Some fish coming ashore have also had plastic nurdles (polypropylene granules) that had spilt from the ship.

“Some fish had plastic nurdles in their stomach, so they had died due to some difficulty caused by plastic nurdles,” Kumaratunga said.

The ship was carrying chemicals including over 40 containers of sodium hydroxide, one container of nitric acid, ammonium fertilizer as well plastic granules.

“There could be toxic algae growth from eutrophication of the ocean due to the presence of urea to a greater extent,” Prasanthi Gunawardene, a professor of Environmental Economics at Sri Jayawardenapura University who is leading the team calculating economic values for natural resource damage assessment.

Economic impacts include loss to fishermen, loss to tourism and indirect losses.

The scientists say they will continue to study the impact since waste is still being released by the sunken vessel.

“The fish will not die tomorrow, in the same manner, they died today,” Kumaratunga said. “We don’t know for how long the waster will be in the environment and how they will affect the fish. ‘We have to do a longer study about it.

“There are carcasses of some fishes which has never washed ashore before. Especially Moray eel, which is not a common fish that we see,”

Scientists were also studying a blue whale that washed ashore in Kayts in the north of the island on June 15.

“I think our team has never studied the inside of a whale,” Kumaratunga said

“We have to take a sample from the stomach to find the cause of death, to find what toxic materials went inside the stomach, to find what the whale has eaten and to find out what is deposited in the tissues.

“It is not easy to cut open a whale. It is not like cutting a normal fish it is a very complicated process.”

The ship is now sunk and sunk with some chemical onboard on Sri Lanka’s continental shelf.

“It’s to these shallow waters that some coastal fish came to breed and lay eggs,” Kumaratunga said “However not enough research had been done, about the individual fish species.”

“In the period during the ebb and flow of tide some fish come to lay eggs,’ Normally during New Moon and Full Moon days( amawakahaapasaloswaka)

salaya, sudaya, hurulla and halmassa come to breed and lay eggs near the beaches.”

Due to resource constraints, not enough research had been done.

“But we haven’t done a proper study about our seas because we don’t have the resources to do them,” she explained.

“Fishermen, because they had been in the profession a long time they know certain things from their experiences.

“But as scientists, we have information from the researches we did from the funds given to us.”

MEPA said it was not keen on giving all information about giving details about the deaths of fish and turtles as there was the possibility of litigation.

“Once we use that for our litigation purposes it will be a public document,” Lahandapura said.(Colombo/June19/2021)


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