Wednesday January 22, 2020

Bhutan is fighting hard to conserve the Threatened Iconic Fish ‘Golden Mahseer’

In Bhutan, the golden mahseer is considered as one of the eight auspicious signs associated with Buddhism, as practised in the Himalayan region

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The Iconic fish of Bhutan, Golden Mahseer. Image source: mahseer-fly-fishing.blogspot.com
  • The golden mahseer of Bhutan is also known as ‘Tor putitora’
  • The Bhutan government is taking steps to conserve it by allocating hatcheries right besides the dams where these fishes are usually found
  • This doesn’t stop the Bhutanese government from building hydroelectric dams 

One of the best known fish found in South Asian waters is the golden mahseer or ‘Tor putitora’. Growing to a length of nine feet and weighing up to 40kg, makes it one of the most sought-after gaming fish in the world. At one point, the fish was found along the whole Himalayan belt, from northern Pakistan to present-day Myanmar. It was also found in the waters of Iran and Thailand.

Unfortunately, environmental degradation and unrestricted fishing have had a catastrophic impact on its population. Today, it is listed on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. In India, the private company, Tata Power has spearheaded a campaign to breed and release fishes into the rivers. In Nepal, it continues to face severe challenges as laws go unenforced.

“The rivers of southern Bhutan are its greatest hope for survival, as long as action is taken soon to keep the threats to mahseer at bay” states a World Wildlife Fund report. The health of the big fish is also a measure of the health of the river ecosystems of Bhutan, which impact all the flora and fauna living in and around the water bodies.

For Bhutan, a Buddhist country, the golden mahseer has religious significance as well, as the fish is one of the eight auspicious signs associated with Buddhism as practised in the Himalayan region.

The challenge of dams

This iconic fish is found in the Punatsangchhu river, which runs for 320 km from its source in Bhutan to the point where it meets the Brahmaputra in India. Two major hydroelectric dam projects – Punatsangchhu-I and Punatsangchhu-II – are being built on the river.

“The golden mahseer migrates all the way from India to upstream rivers in Bhutan for breeding and feeding  that since no proper scientific study had been conducted, there is no way of knowing how the dams will affect the fish. Nevertheless, since the fish have been sighted upstream in Punatsangchhu earlier, the dams may prevent the mahseer from migrating for spawning and feeding.” Singye Tshering, programme director at the National Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries told thethirdpole.net.

Rivers flowing in Bhutan. Image source Wikimedia commons
A River in Bhutan. Image source Wikimedia commons

There is no official record kept of the fish in the area, but according to Kinley, who was posted by the Bhutanese government, 15 years ago to keep track of the iconic fish, the number has declined since the hydroelectric projects commenced.

Mitigation measures

Singye Tshering told thethirdpole.net “while this may not be an ideal mitigation measure, it is recommended especially for conditions found in Bhutan, where gorges, rugged terrain and swiftly flowing rivers mean that fish passages and fish ladders will not work to offset the blockages created by dam construction. He said fish migrating upstream for breeding are collected and bred artificially in the hatchery near the dam and later released back into the river. That way, we can ensure that the fish are able to breed and sustain their population.” Officials from National Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries and environment officials at the Punatsangchhu project identified alocation for a hatchery at Harrachu, a few kilometres away from Punatsangchhu-II, in November 2015. The golden mahseer hatchery project is being built at an estimated cost of $2.8 million.

The management plan includes the identification of spawning and feeding grounds and declaring them as sanctuaries as well as promoting and developing fish-based tourism to promote a sense of ownership among the people to protect fishery resources. With World Wildlife Fund funding, the ministry of forest and agriculture has started a scientific remote radio telemetry study on the golden mahseer to understand its habitat. The project also hopes to establish baseline data for the mahseer population and identify migration patterns. The study is underway in the Manas river basin covering the Mangdechhu and Dangmechhu rivers.

Taking steps to conserve mahseer, Bhutan continues to build hydroelectric dam which is the main source of their economy.

-by Vrushali Mahajan, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: Vrushali Mahajan

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  • Aparna Gupta

    Our Flora and Fauna is our heritage and is need to be protected. Its great that Bhutan is taking measures to preserve their Fauna.

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Conservationists take Clive Palmer to Court to Save Queensland’s Bimblebox Nature Refuge, but Citizen Action is Also Needed

Visitors to the Bimblebox Nature Refuge website will notice a heartfelt plead welcoming them; ‘Help save Bimblebox’. Every good story needs a villain. This time (and not for the first time) it’s Clive Palmer

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Greenpeace Australia, GetUp!, March Australia, Green MPS and many other groups, including local organizations Stop Adani and Galilee Blockade, have called on state officials to deny Palmer’s application and save the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, supported by citizens.

The Bimblebox Nature Refuge, a well-beloved Queensland gem, is facing its toughest challenge to date. It was purchased by private individuals in 2008, when Queensland’s land clearing rates were amongst the highest in the world, in order to save it from a grim fate. Now, after 12 years of peace, it is again threatened – this time by mining mogul and billionaire Clive Palmer.

Palmer, currently accused of trading while insolvent and of other corporate misgovernance allegations by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, has an abysmal track-record in Queensland’s Galilee Basin;

Besides this new initiative, Palmer is also currently seeking approval on a monstrous coal mine 3 times bigger than Adani’s, called Alpha North. If Palmer is successful in his bid, he would construct the mine on a conservation area for the endangered black finch. And let’s not forget Palmer’s now-bankrupt nickel refinery, Queensland Nickel, which caused several major spills and leakages that harmed the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding territories, the latest one in 2018 (3 years after it shut down).

Queensland Nickel’s negligence is not just environmental; maintenance issues and safety incidents and accidents kept piling up long before it was closed, say ex-employees. Documents attained by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland mention dozens of unattended breaches.

Now, Palmer’s company Waratah Coal wants to build another mega-coal mine on the lands which today are home to the Bimblebox Nature Refuge. Its current owners claim that even though they own the land, they are still vulnerable, as “protected areas that make up the National Reserve System are not automatically protected from mineral exploration and mining, which in Australia are granted rights over almost all other land uses”.

Unluckily for the Bimblebox, it is the first protected area to face the threat of mining to the degree proposed by Waratah Coal’s proposed mine. President Paola Cassoni says the important of this case goes beyond their small protected area, and will “serve as a test case as to whether the Queensland State and Australian Federal governments are willing to alter outdated legislation so that conservation values are considered to be at least of similar importance to the state as large mining projects”.

The QLD Environment Department itself had advised in 2011 that proposed clearing on Bimblebox Nature Refuge for Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine would kill about 35,880 birds, 13,570 mammals and 780,000 reptiles. “We will fight to save this invaluable island of remnant woodland,” Cassoni said in a statement. “We cannot stand by and allow the trashing of nature for coal.”

Queenslanders have shown their support for the Nature Refuge on social media since the announcement. Many protested the proposed mine, calling leaders such as Premier and Minister for Trade, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Cameron Dick and Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Anthony Lynham for immediate action.

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The QLD Environment Department itself had advised in 2011 that proposed clearing on Bimblebox Nature Refuge for Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine would kill about 35,880 birds, 13,570 mammals and 780,000 reptiles.

Greenpeace Australia, GetUp!, March Australia, Green MPS and many other groups, including local organizations Stop Adani and Galilee Blockade, have called on state officials to deny Palmer’s application and save the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, supported by citizens.

David Morris, CEO of The Environmental Defenders Office, is acting for the Bimblebox owners. He told The Guardian that the project would destroy about half the nature refuge. “The project consists of two open-cut pits and four underground mines that will totally destroy roughly 50% of the nature refuge and cut underneath the remainder, leaving it in ruins,” Morris said.“It will have a huge impact on local graziers and destroy a private conservation reserve that is one of the largest tracts of intact woodland in Queensland and home to hundreds of species, many of which are rare or endangered.”

Local farmers have concerns as well; the use of 768 billion litres, or 768 gigalitres, of groundwater over its 30-year lifespan of the proposed mine, equating to one-and-a-half times the volume of Sydney Harbour. “When you’ve lost your groundwater, you’ve lost it. It doesn’t matter how many make-good agreements you sign, you’ve lost it,” added Paola Cassoni.

Many are wondering how the state of Queensland could allow Palmer to run another mine in the region, especially considering that the Townsville City Council is taking legal action against Clive Palmer’s companies QNI Metals Pty Ltd and QNI Resources Pty Ltd as we speak, seeking more than $2.5 million from the billionaire. Palmer has apparently not paid rates and charges relating to land where Queensland Nickel’s Yabulu refinery sits and to another property since 2016.

“Not only is this frustrating, it is also unfair for the thousands of other land owners across Townsville who paid their rates and water charges as required, including those who paid despite their property suffering damage in the devastating monsoon event earlier this year,” a council spokesman has said.

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The Bimblebox Nature Refuge, a well-beloved Queensland gem, is facing its toughest challenge to date.

Other Palmer debts, such as to the Port of Townsville, Aurizon, Queensland Rail and the state (for over $60 million paid to the workers of QNI from taxpayer money), also remain unpaid.

ALSO READ: Regular Visits to Museums and Theatres Can Help you Live Longer: Study

A court hearing in the matter of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge has yet to be scheduled. Concerned citizens can still object via phone, email or official form, lodging complaints with the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) and the Environmental Authority.