Hazardous Waste

What Is to Blame for 10,000 Dead Frogs?

Oct 27 2016 Comments 0

This month saw the discovery of over 10,000 dead frogs on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, South America. The water frog, whose Latin name is Telmatobius coleus, was just one of several organisms killed in mysterious circumstances at the high-altitude body of water in October.

Unfortunately, the frog is also one of the most critically endangered species of its kind, meaning environmentalists in the area are extremely concerned about its continued existence.

Highly adapted, highly sensitive

The amphibian’s colloquial name is “scrotum frog” due to the excessive folds of skin which give it a rather unfortunate appearance. This genetic quirk has been adapted over centuries to allow them to absorb oxygen through their wrinkles, which makes survival the high altitudes of Titicaca possible.

Unfortunately, these very same folds make the frogs incredibly sensitive to changes in their habitat or climate, since they are susceptible to absorbing toxins through their skin at the same time. As a result, it’s thought that the pollution of the lake from human inhabitants of the land is to blame for the mass die-off.

The incident is reminiscent of one in 2014, in which the proliferation of a certain kind of algae in the water worked to remove oxygen from its makeup, thus adversely affecting (and indeed killing) thousands of frogs and fish. Scientists have been working to use ultrasonic techniques to control algae without the use of chemicals, though such methods have not always spread to less affluent parts of the globe.

Manmade pollution the culprit?

As yet, it remains unclear as to exactly what has caused this latest phenomenon, though contamination of the water is the most likely culprit, according to Tom Weaver of Denver Zoo.

“We’re collecting more samples to find out what’s causing this, because it could potentially be a disease outbreak or a contamination outbreak. When you have an estimated 10,000 frogs die off, then it’s usually a contamination of some sort,” explained Weaver. “This is not something that happened just yesterday. It’s been going on for a while and is probably still going on right now. Everything else is dying in the lake — the fish — and it's affecting the whole chain — the whole ecosystem.”

The worsening situation was brought to the attention of local authorities in Peru when protest groups brought 100 of the dead frogs to the local main square in Puno, the largest town bordering the lake.

“I’ve had to bring them the dead frogs. The authorities don't realise how we're living. They have no idea how major the pollution is,” said Maruja Inquilla, leader of the protest group. “The situation is maddening. Why is the state so apathetic? We need a sewage treatment plant now.”

Prevention better than the cure

Therein lies the ideal solution to the problem: preventing such contamination from happening in the first place. Though there are a myriad ways to clean up flooded lakes and reservoirs, without adequate wastewater treatment facilities, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

The frogs have been named as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), who estimate that their population has fallen by a staggering 80% in 15 years. If their numbers are to avoid slipping even further towards extinction, action must be taken to limit contamination of Titicaca waters, or the scrotum frog could be destined for the chop.

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