Authorities in China have halted the construction of a bridge in Jingzhou, Hubei province after the alleged deaths of 6,000 Chinese sturgeon, an ancient species of fish barely clinging to existence.
Despite repeated previous orders to stop, work on the Miyue Bridge in the city’s Jinan ecocultural tourism zone has encroached on the very breeding facility that has kept the 140-million-year-old species from extinction, reports ChinaDaily.com.
Shocks, noise and changes to the water are blamed for the deaths, with an executive from the breeding facility quoted as saying that fish leapt out of the water to escape as construction work got closer to the aquafarm.
Thirty-six adults more than 20 years old were said to have died this year, as well as about 6,000 juveniles up to 2 years old, all at the Hengsheng aquafarm, China Daily said, citing ThePaper.cn.
There are fewer than 1,000 mature Chinese sturgeon left, which were artificially bred from wild parents. Of those, more than half came from the Hengsheng aquafarm, said China Daily.
Native to the Yangtze River, the sturgeon had historically been hunted eagerly for its prized roe, leading to its critically endangered status. Dam construction has also damaged its habitat. China launched a breeding program in the 1970s when scientists saw their steep decline.
An investigative team from China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs have arrived in Jingzhou to investigate the deaths, said China Daily.
More than 10 official inspection teams have visited the site and ordered construction to stop, the news site added, but the orders were ignored reportedly because no compensation had been agreed.
Wei Qiwei, a principal scientist at the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, was quoted as saying that the 36 mature fish that died were in the first artificially bred generation.
Wei said that because their parents had been taken from the wild, these 36 were "extremely precious" as they had a richer genetic diversity than their offspring.
Image: A Chinese sturgeon, photographed in 2012. There are fewer than 1,000 mature Chinese sturgeon left (shankar s./Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0)