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SPNL Launches

Fish and Wildlife Unit in response to the fish kill in Lake Qaraoun on the Litani River

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon announced today the launching of Fish and Wild life Unit (FWU) in response to the fish kill in Lake Qaraoun on the Litani River. The Unit works to support conservation of fish, wildlife, and their habitats in Lebanon. It will undertake management-relevant research, support decision makers through technical assistance, and train the next generation of conservation leaders. Our vision is based on the Hima concept that entails the conservation principles of increasing public participation, fair and wise use of natural resources, protection of local communities knowledge and traditions and recognition of their traditional rights.
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Unprecedented disaster

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More than 100 tons of dead fish have washed up on the shore of a highly polluted lake in eastern Lebanon in the past few days. Based on the MoU between The Litani River Authority (LRA) and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) a preliminary report was published concluding that a virus had killed only carp in the lake. LRA and SPNL warned of a "viral epidemic," and called for fishing to be forbidden in the Litani as well as in the lake. Only one type of fish was found dead in the lake’s waters, which is the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), a common type of freshwater fish in European and Asian waters. The most probable cause of this “catastrophe” is Spring Viremia of carp (SVC) virus. “Without analysis, we cannot be decisive,” said SPNL’s expert Maher Osta. Lake Qaraoun was built as a reservoir on the Litani river in 1959 to produce hydropower and provide water for irrigation. But in recent years experts have warned huge quantities of wastewater, industrial waste, and agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizer flooding into it have made it increasingly toxic. Since 2018 Ministry of Agriculture banned fishing in the reservoir as the fish there were declared unfit for human consumption, though fish from the lake have continued to appear in several markets. The lake is also home to cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, and in warmer months the excess nutrients from pollution have caused the bacteria to erupt into bright green blooms that release toxins. Head of Litany River Authority, Dr. Sami Alawieh said that law enforcement is the priority to save the ecological system of the river. “LRA and SPNL are working together to identify options that enable us to adopt sustainable acts while implementing long-term solutions for habitat improvement. We are seeking public input to help us achieve our goals of saving the river.” Alawieh explained.

Volunteers clear tons of dead fish

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SPNL immediate recommendation for quick action was to remove as much of the dead fish carcasses before they decompose and overwhelm the lake ecosystem which is already suffering from biological pollution overload (raw sewers, factory effluents, and agricultural runoff to name a few). Volunteers and staff from SPNL participated in the collecting tons of dead fish found in a lake on the Litani River, as Lebanon was hit with another disaster adding to its endless list of crises. LRA and SPNL, in cooperation with the local community, fishermen and environmental organizations has started a campaign to collect tons of dead fish found in the Qaraoun Lake. The lake and the river have become highly polluted over the years due to neglect. This pollution -- resulting from untreated sewage water and industrial waste that flow directly into waters -- is a grave threat to public health and has resulted in major economic and environmental losses. This is a very serious problem not only for the environment, but also for the livelihood of the people living near the lake, where the swarms of flies and the stench of decaying carcasses are already unbearable, and if we add to that the expected Cyanobacteria population explosion and the carcinogenic Cyanotoxins they produce then all the lake surroundings should be considered hazardous areas.

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Why “Fish and Wildlife” unit? and why now?

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"Infectious diseases pose a serious threat to the health of people, domestic animals, and wildlife alike. A deeper understanding of how organisms respond to disease better equips us to improve human and animal health in the face of infectious onslaughts", said Assad Serhal, SPNL Director General and Midori Prize Winner.

“Despite all the controversial reports about the cause of death of thousands of mirror carp fish (Cyprinus Carpio), SPNL was the first organization to diagnose the cause as a disease. As part of our agreement with the Litany River Authority (LRA) we got involved from the start. We diagnosed the problem by using bioindicators, and we proved that the disease was not confined to the Lake but it is also killing the carp in and near the Ammiq swamp”. Serhal added. “Despite all the controversial reports about the cause of death of thousands of mirror carp fish (Cyprinus Carpio), SPNL was the first organization to diagnose the cause as a disease. As part of our agreement with the Litany River Authority (LRA) we got involved from the start. We diagnosed the problem by using bioindicators, and we proved that the disease was not confined to the Lake but it is also killing the carp in and near the Ammiq swamp”. Serhal added. The prompt reaction of SPNL was the creation of a “Fish and Wildlife” unit that started its first field day on the 30th of April in the Qaraoun Lake. The unit hired daily workers and summoned volunteers and acted quickly with hand tools to remove as much as possible the dead fish from the water so that they can be hauled away by the heavy machinery of the LRA. The unit will work on a daily basis on this emergency plan in close collaboration with the LRA as much as it’s needed. SPNL’s Fish and Wildlife unit also started working on a long-action plan to further enhance the water quality of the lake and increase its biodiversity, the same biodiversity that helped us do our proper diagnosis from day one. SPNL has been working in the Anjar Kfar Zabad wetlands, Bekaa region for more than 17 years in participatory approach with the local community through the Hima approach. This included field assessment and monitoring, situation analysis, development of management plans, capacity building for local community especially youth and women, promotion of eco-friendly practices regarding water quality and quantity, and support for the livelihood of the community.

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This resulted in success stories exemplified by the increase of the Syrian Serin, vulnerable bird species endemic to the area, breeding population; and the return of the River otter population to the wetlands. Further impact was clear by the retention of constant water levels during drought season in comparison with Ammiq wetlands which is drying up in some years during summer months. In addition to the drastic decrease of agricultural recharge to the water which led to higher quality of water in the upstream Litani river basin providing drinking water to more than 30 surrounding villages. All this was realized through the kind support of BirdLife International, IUCN, MAVA Foundation, SDC, GIZ Japanese Embassy Fund , USAID, CEPF , Birdlife France LPO, EU , Norman Sills RSPB , EuroNature Germany , Swiss Embassy , SRT , GEF , UNDP, Ministries of Environment, Education, Agriculture, Defence, Energy and Water. In addition to Municipalities and Municipal police, Homat Al Hima, local farmers and others. The signed MoU with the Litani River authority on 31 December 2018, has allowed the erection of informative signage in their facilities in West Bekaa region explaining about waterbirds, wetlands, and the biological treatment plant for water. The MoU allows SPNL interventions in community capacity building, awareness and education, science and research, and agricultural practices, mitigating illegal hunting, promoting reforestation, and upgrade of community livelihood. Building on LRA MoU and our relationship with the lake municipalities, SPNL will replicate around the river and lake with all communities.

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