The Tigris-Euphrates river basin, once a cradle of ancient civilization, is now becoming a graveyard for endemic fish species. A recent study revealed that pollution and invasive species have pushed the region’s native fish towards extinction, while dams and hydroelectric power plants exacerbate the crisis.
Associate Professor Cüneyt Kaya led the study from Turkey’s R.T.E. Faculty of Aquatic Sciences, analysing the biological diversity of the rivers over the last 15 years. According to the research, the Tigris and Euphrates hold 92 endemic fish species, seven of which have already been placed on the Red List of endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Large-scale dams and hydroelectric plants severely restrict the water flow, in many areas reducing the once-mighty rivers to nothing more than a stream. “The reduction in water sources is reflecting back on us as a decrease in biological diversity,” warned Kaya.
R.T.E.’s Associate Professor Ülgen Aytan studied the Alburnus sellal fish species, commonly known as the ‘Pearl of Mesopotamia’. Shockingly, 57% of the 536 fish examined contained microplastics. “We found about 1,200 microplastics in just one individual, which is unprecedented in scientific literature,” Aytan said.
With a planned update to the IUCN Red List, the number of endangered species in the Tigris-Euphrates is expected to rise to 16. “The main threats to these fish are pollution, and it’s only getting worse,” Kaya reiterated. “We are obligated to protect the ecosystem.”
The Tigris-Euphrates river system qualifies as one of the world’s 36 threatened ‘biodiversity hotspots’. “This region has been a sanctuary for many species due to its diverse water sources and altitudes,” explained Kaya.
Immediate action is required to conserve and renew the fragile aquatic ecosystems, experts warn.
For more information, please refer to the original study conducted by R.T.E. University.