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Dead Fish on a Bali Mountaintop

Massive Fish Die Off Reported as Volcanic Lake at Baliís Lake Batur Suddenly Changes Color.

(6/19/2011) A unusual natural phenomenon is causing concern for communities living around the edge of Bali’s Lake Batur at Kintamani.

On Sunday, June 19, 2011, the waters of the lake that sits in a volcanioc crater suddenly changed colors to a whitish-blue shade followed by the sudden death of thousands of fish (tilapia) living in the lake.

According to NusaBali, villagers for the lakeside community of Lintang Danu recount that the lake suddenly changed color on Sunday (June 19) morning in the areas surrounding the villages of Songan. Batur, Kedisan and Buahan. Shortly after the color change, thousands of freshwater fish floated to the surface and begin washing up on the lake’s shore. Fish farmed by villages in the shallows of the lake also died with the changing color of the lake.

Local fisherman, who traditionally plant local freshwater majiar fish (tilapia) in the lake, scrambled to the location to rescue fish in distress but still alive to place them in fresh water pools ashore.

The head of the Wildlife and Fisheries Service for the regency of Bangli, A.A. Ngurah Shamba, said his office was still surveying the situation and trying to understand the natural phenomenon that change the water color and caused the fish die-off. Samples of dead fish have been collected for laboratory analysis.

Local villagers are blaming the situation on an underwater explosion of the volcano concealed by the crater lake. A village chief from the local community of Buahan, I Made Antara, was less certain on the cause of the phenomenon, saying the die-off might be due to a an underwater explosion, a fluctuation in water temperature, a current of acidic water or an unusual particle introduced naturally to the water.

Another villager form Songan, also on the lake’s edge, said this is not the first time such an occurrence has taken place. Jro Saba said a similar phenomenon occurred about 3 years ago, but at that time the change in water color was less pronounced that is now the case. Said Saba: “I suspect that there was an explosion in the center of the lake that released sulphur that killed the fish.” He estimates the losses suffered by local fish farmers is in the billions of rupiah.

Saba said the change in the lake’s water might also have a deleterious effect on farmers living near the lake. Farmers who use the lakes water for irrigating their crops of shallots, onions, cabbage and other crops are now concerned the colored water may be harmful to their crops.

The chief of the Disaster Alleviation Office for Bali, Putu Anom Agustina, has issued a statement declaring that the change in water color was not tied to volcanic activity. Said Agustina: “this is a natural phenomenon, not due to the volcanic activity of Mount Batur. It is perhaps due to strong winds that blew sulfuric soil into Lake Batur.”

Agustina said the volcanic status of the lake remains unchanged, at a normal “level I” rating.

Mount Batur has exploded 26 times since 1804, with the last cataclysmic explosion happening 2,000 years ago. In recent times, the largest explosion occurred on August 2, 1926. That explosion deposited large amounts of lava into the lake from Mount Batur.

Mount Batur is located to the west of Bali's sacred Mount Agung, which suffered a major explosion in 1963 claiming between 1,500 and 2,000 lives.