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Fish Dying Mysteriously in Kuwait - 2001-09-04

There is something in the Persian Gulf waters near Kuwait that has been killing tens of thousands of fish. No one seems to know what it is or why the fish are dying. But scientists from around the world are descending on Kuwait in hopes of finding the answer.

Tons of dead fish are appearing in Persian Gulf waters off the coast of Kuwait. Scientists say they have never seen anything like it.

It started around August 10. Since then, around 2,000 tons of dead fish, mostly mullet, have been recovered from Kuwaiti waters and dead fish are still appearing.

The fish market in Kuwait has been shut down and is reported losing more than $1.5 million per day.

The government has placed a ban on fishing in Kuwaiti waters and has set up a committee of inquiry.

Scientists from around the world, including the United States and Britain, are either already in Kuwait or en route to help solve what has become a scientific mystery.

The investigations have been exhaustive, explains Mohammad al-Sarawi, the head of Kuwait's Environment Public Authority. "We have collected a lot of information, especially oceanographic information, relating to the temperature profiles, pH levels, dissolved oxygen, some physical parameters as well," he says. "We have done extensive chemical testing and analysis on the tissue and also on the marine environment."

So far scientists say their best guess for what is killing the fish is an infection caused by warmer than normal Persian Gulf waters. Abdul Hadi al-Otaibi is the director of Kuwait's Institute of Scientific Research. He says the cause could be streptococcus. "The causes, so far, have been documented as bacteria being in hot water, which is called streptococcus," he says.

Temperatures in Kuwait, over the past several weeks, have been soaring above 50 degrees Celsius. However, the hot water theory is just one possible explanation.

Scientists are also examining the possibility of sewage or agricultural bacteria being exposed to Persian Gulf waters.

They say they have ruled out any possible connection to the 1991 Gulf War.

Investigators hope they can find a definitive answer to what is killing Kuwait's fish within the next few weeks.