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Oil, aquatic trash and poisonous algae threaten life in Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo

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MARACAIBO, Venezuela — The fishermen of Lake Maracaibo say they face their worst nightmare on a regular basis as fish shares decline and air pollution degrades the well being of this nice freshwater lake, one of many oldest — and largest — on the planet.

Lake Maracaibo, which as soon as was on the coronary heart of Venezuela‘s oil increase, has changed into a polluted wasteland, in line with environmentalists.

The air pollution of the lake, situated about 600 kilometers (372 miles) west of the capital, Caracas, is the results of many years of extreme oil exploitation, poor upkeep of the out of date infrastructure and a scarcity of waste remedy crops within the space. Tens of 1000’s of kilometers of pipes lie at its backside, the place crude oil leaks and system failures are frequent.

The lake, which collects rainwater from greater than 100 tributaries, has additionally develop into the wastewater deposit for the western states of Zulia, Mérida and Trujillo, the place 5.3 million individuals reside. Waste from the Colombian division of Norte de Santander additionally leads to it.

Fertilizers, sewage and different chemical substances are discharged into Lake Maracaibo, inflicting excessive concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus which have led to the expansion of cyanobacteria corresponding to microcystin that produces 95% of what’s domestically known as “verdin,” a greenish, poisonous microalgae that occupies a lot of the lake’s waters, in line with Beltrán Briceño, a professor on the College of Zulia and head of the microbiology laboratory of the Institute of Agricultural Analysis in Maracaibo.

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The proliferation of cyanobacteria could cause critical harm to each aquatic animals and human beings because of the toxins they generate, he stated. Cyanobacteria could cause huge fish deaths.

The fish not come close to the shores of the lake as a result of the microalgae “drowns them,” stated José Aular, a 61-year-old fisherman who says he developed a pores and skin rash due to the lake’s contamination.

Environmentalists say oil air pollution in Lake Maracaibo started at first of the twentieth century however worsened within the early Nineteen Thirties, when a canal was excavated on the northern finish of the lake to permit massive oil tankers to navigate and join the lake with the open sea. Seawater flowed in, killing freshwater wildlife, corresponding to some crops and fish.

Earlier than, “you’ll exit fishing and catch 700 kilos (about 1,500 kilos) of shrimp” virtually on a regular basis, stated Yordi Vicuña, a 33-year-old fisherman. Now, he says, fishermen spend days at sea solely to return again with about eight kilos (17 kilos) of shrimp.

Fishermen cannot forged their nets wherever as a result of they may get broken. Crude oil spilled into the lake smears fishing boats, clogs outboard motors and stains nets, stated Vicuña.

The air pollution of Lake Maracaibo is many years {old}, however now it is being felt on its coast with its unhealthy smells, oil spills and microalgae, stated Briceño, the professor on the College of Zulia.

“There is no such thing as a magic formulation” to rescue the lake if it continues for use as a “septic tank,” he warns.


Related Press author Jorge Rueda contributed to this story from Caracas, Venezuela.

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