GUWAHATI, Sept 5 - Large-scale death of Tilapia fish – locally known as ‘Japani Kawoi’ – at Jorpukhuri adjacent to the Ugratara temple for the past few days (from Thursday night to Sunday) has raised concerns over the quality of water in the historic water-body as also its overall management.
Intriguingly, only one particular species of fish has died even though the pond shelters wide-ranging fish varieties, besides turtles. The three-hundred-year-old pond, in fact, boasts around a dozen species of turtles – including one that is extinct in the wild.
“We first noticed the floating dead fish around midnight on Thursday. It continued till Sunday and no fish has died since. Curiously, all the dead fish happen to be Tilapia,” Kamal Bhattacharya, the Doloi (head priest of the temple management), told The Assam Tribune.
According to Sarma, the total dead fish (one averages around 250 grams) removed from the water would weigh around 60 kg. While samples of the pond water have been sent to the Pollution Control Board Assam (PCBA) for tests, another report done by the Fishery Department has termed the water quality as normal for fish. The PCBA report is yet to be released.
The Fishery officials were of the view that overpopulation of the Tilapia in the pond was the likely cause behind their mass death, with lack of oxygen, food and space being the accounting factors. The temple authorities have taken a decision to remove the Tilapia fish from the pond, as they breed rapidly and are also an invasive species.
Herpetologist Jayaditya Purkayastha who has been studying the herpeto-fauna in temple water-bodies, especially turtles, said that overpopulation of the fish and the resultant oxygen shortage could have contributed to the fish deaths.
“Assuming that poor water quality caused the deaths, we will need a detailed analysis of the water samples to pinpoint the cause. But, that also does not explain why only a particular variety was affected in large numbers. It is likely that overpopulation of fish is the cause,” Purkayastha said.
He also suggested that beautification and maintenance of temple ponds take into account the ecological concerns, more so in view of the fact that many temple water-bodies supported large-scale biodiversity, especially turtles.
“The slopes and banks of ponds are often concretised in the name of beautification and preservation, but such developments affect the pond’s ecology and water quality. Worse, it robs the turtles of their resting and breeding space as is happening at Ugratara,” he added.
Kailash Sarma, social activist and a local resident, was also critical of the maintenance of the pond. “The pond is clearly overpopulated with fish, particularly the Tilapia. The turtles are also staring at an uncertain future following the concretisation of the banks. The temple authorities need to consult ecologists and also the Archaeological Survey of India before proceeding with renovation work, as it is a historic water-body dating back to the Ahom reign,” he said.
Sarma also alleged that the GMDA which was doing the renovation work in and around the pond was not quite up to the task and failed to accomplish it in a wholesome manner,” he said. The Ugratara temple pond was excavated by Bar-Raja Phuleswari, the queen of Ahom king Shiva Singha, in early 18th century.