Belize New River, Orange Walk District, Wed. Apr. 28, 2021– The Belize New River in Orange Walk is currently emitting a foul stench, and so far this year three large-scale fish deaths have been seen at the river. Since 2019, the Belize New River has been experiencing eutrophication. There has been an early start to the mass fish deaths in 2021.
The first incidence of fish deaths this year began in February, and since then there seems to have been a recurrence of this on a monthly basis. The eutrophication of a river occurs when an excess of nutrients makes its way into the waters, causing an accelerated growth of aquatic plants. These plants consume oxygen that the fish need. An overgrowth will further endanger fish living in the area.
The lack of oxygen kills fish that are important in our ecosystem. Many of these fish recycle nutrients in the water and maintain healthy predator-prey relationships in the food chain. The deaths of a large number of fish could result in a surge in algae and plant growth, further depleting oxygen levels in the water, and thus causing more death to aquatic life. Additionally, many organisms that feed on fish from the ecosystem will be severely affected.
The ongoing crisis at the Belize New River also has the potential of being hazardous to human health. The Department of Environment has issued a release that warns the public to not feed on fish from the river, for they may be contaminated. Also, the stench of the New River is currently affecting all those within its vicinity. The DOE has assembled a working task force to combat the problem; however, the stench has already started to have an impact. La Inmaculada RC School has since expressed their concern. Schools are scheduled to reopen soon, but the stench is reducing the chances of that happening at the La Inmaculada RC. This school has severely been impacted by the river before. Back in 2019, the students faced health issues stemming from the river’s condition.
The cause of these fish deaths remains unknown, but the Department of Environment (DOE) has been investigating the occurrences. The department has also recently received funding to support their restorative process. This will allow the continuous monitoring of the water at the New River site. Samples have since been collected, but there is yet to be a comprehensive report explaining the cause or compounding causes of the eutrophication.
Important stakeholders who are directly impacted by the condition of the river have also taken a stand to support the Belize New River. Friends for the New River, ECO-Hearts and many nearby businesses have spoken out about the situation. They have called for urgent action to be taken at the site to avoid a recurrence of the 2019 threat. The DOE and relevant personnel have all called for a collaborative approach to address the situation.