Disaster in River Schelde

The Flemish waters of the River Schelde have escaped from a disaster, but this contrasts with the situation further upstream in France and Wallonia, where sugar beet pulp pollution has wreaked havoc among fish stocks.

The crisis started when large quantities of sugar beet pulp ended up in the River Schelde (Scheldt) in France two weeks ago.  The pulp ensures that practically all oxygen is sucked out of the water. 

Fisheries biologist Alain Dillen says that in France the pollution will have meant the death of 100% of all fish: “In Wallonia it’s around 99.8% of fish that are dead.  In contrast in Flemish waters 95% of fish have been saved”.

Wallonia had little time to respond.  In Flanders there was a quick reaction.  Several techniques were used to pump massive amounts of oxygen into the water. This action by various government agencies as well as local fire services allowed the pollution to be thinned out. Gavere fire-fighters deployed an oxygenation frame between Ghent and Oudenaarde to pump oxygen into the water over a large area.  “It’s a bit like what happens in an aquarium, but on a far larger scale” said Karen Buyse. “We see it’s a success, because dead fish are few and far between.  The dead fish we see have been brought here from France or Wallonia.  The pollution is decreasing, but it’s not over yet.  The pulp has now arrived in the Zwijnaarde area.”

Alain Dillen believes that the River Schelde will have recovered from the damage inflicted by the pollution by the autumn.  The damage in France and Wallonia is far more serious.

“I estimate it will take up to 15 years for fish stocks to recover in the River Schelde in France and Wallonia.”

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