Thousands of tons of dead sardines and other fish and marine life were dumped onto the northern Pacific coast of Baja California Sur state over the weekend in what local ecologists have called the worst marine environmental tragedy in the state's history.
Huge numbers of sardines, as well as fewer other fish such as scallops and anchovies, as well as sea cucumbers and lobsters, some of which were still alive, washed up on the beaches of Sebastian Vizcaino Bay, located off the northwest coast of Mulege municipality.
According to local media reports, about 15 kilometers of the coastline were covered with dead sardines, which attracted hungry gulls and even coyotes. Locals told El Sudcaliforniano newspaper that the event was unprecedented in scale. Fernando García Romero, an official with the Baja California Sur Fisheries Department, said the fish extinction was caused by high ocean temperatures.
The warmer-than-normal water temperature has caused hypoxia - an inadequate supply of oxygen - in dead fish and marine life, he said. Locals who returned the lobsters to the sea noted that the water was much hotter than usual and had a cloudy brown color, indicating a lack of oxygen.
Local fishermen union leader Benito Emeterio Lopez attributed the fish extinction to climate change and hot water from Japan. The water temperature off the Baja California coast is usually between 18 and 22 degrees, but in the area where dead sardines washed ashore, it reached 30 degrees, according to local fishing cooperatives.
Since then, the temperature has returned to normal. The Milenio newspaper reported that the discovery of thousands of tons of dead fish "has been described by several local environmentalists as the largest environmental tragedy on the Baja California Sur coast." Local fishermen said there was a possibility that a large number of other marine species such as shellfish, mussels and sea snails also died, although they did not make it to the beaches.
There are also fears that high water temperatures could negatively affect the stocks of abalones, on which hundreds of families depend for their livelihoods.