Despite the best of intentions, the bi-monthly release of fish into Daming Lake in Jinan, Shandong has resulted in an ecological disaster, with upwards of 50 kilograms of dead fish collected from the lake each day.
The lake has become a popular place to perform the traditional Buddhist ritual of fangsheng (放生), whereby animals are rescued from captivity and released back into the natural environment to signify harmony with nature.
Performed on the first and 15th day of each lunar month, residents spend thousands of yuan to purchase live fish and release them into Daming Lake. Approximately 20,000 fish, weighing 5,000 kilograms are released into the lake each month.
Park official Su Jian said some 60 to 70 percent of the fish released into the lake don’t survive because they aren’t indigenous species and cannot adapt to the local environment:
About 50 kilograms of dead fish have to be removed from the lake on a daily basis. On some days, the amount is close to 100 kilograms. In a month, we collect an average of about 1,500 kilograms of dead fish.
Fish aren’t the only concern. The lake’s lotus fields are being decimated, and the local wildlife is quickly disappearing. Park Director, Yang Junguo, warned of a complete collapse of the lake ecosystem. According to Yang, local wildlife like prawns, rock turtles, and water rats are quickly disappearing, while non-local wildlife like catfish, frogs, and eels are now appearing in greater numbers.
Perhaps most alarming is the emergence of online photos of residents releasing snapping turtles into the lake. Snapping turtles are not indigenous to Daming Lake, and have no known predators in the habitat, only increasing the probability of the ecosystem’s collapse.
Last week local officials started to discourage residents from releasing wildlife into the lake, however the damage at this point seems irreparable.