Earlier this month several Tunisians in Hammamet, Sphax and Mahdia woke up to their beaches infested with dead fish and jelly fish, a beached whale in Tunis, off the coast of Sidi Bou Saïd was also carried to shore.
This event has generated an important debate, which confirms the need for investigative science and how little of that there is.
Some environmentalists sustain that the recent mass die-offs are not a coincidence, or a “natural” phenomenon, but a result of marine pollution.
Pollution off the Tunisian coasts is known to be a largely unregulated affair, particularly since the Jasmine revolution, an increasing number of unregulated coastal industries have been leaking toxic waste directly into the sea, furthermore the large majority of the commercial shipping traffic between the Suez Canal and Gibraltar passes off the Tunisian coasts, exerting significant marine ecosystem pressures from hydrocarbon fuel pollution, fumes and waste.
There are also talks on the connection between increasing covert hydraulic fracturing activities offshore between the touristic islands of Djerba and Kerkhennah and the concomitant increase in dead fish found along the coast. This connection is not incongruous, it is not the first time fracking is identified as the culprit in mystery mass die-offs, and given the strong toxic content of chemical concoctions used in fracturing, a small leak can have enormous consequences especially in water where containment is nearly impossible.
On the other hand Hédia Hili, a veterinary doctor at the National Institute of marine science and technology, in an interview states that there is nothing abnormal about these phenomenons and it corresponds to annual events which are due to the proliferation of red jellyfish in the red sea seeping through from the Atlantic and Red sea, changes in the Mediterranean marine ecosystem, climate change and ocean warming. But are these not all anthropologically caused factors?
And there is a final, more esoteric explanation, some say this is an indication the world is going to end soon.
When recently speaking to young Tunisian and Lebanese marine scientists it is apparent that the problem is not the lack of scientists willing to research on these issues, but it is the lack of funding. This is particularly true for the Mediterranean countries who are experiencing economic downturn, and therefore cuts in research and development. The Mediterranean risks becoming a soup of environmental disasters, with little investigative science to explain such disasters.
It is especially alarming to read several articles where the discourse explaining mass die-offs fall into the “it’s normal” or “It’s a mystery” scheme.
Is the human race starting to refute the responsibility for the consequences of its actions?
Image of dead fish on the coast from Shutterstock