IN PICTURES: Switzerland’s fight to save its fish from the heatwave

With extensive mesures being taken across Swiss water bodies to save fish in the midst of the extreme heatwave, The Local spoke to the Swiss Fishing Federation to find out how serious the situation is and what is being done to safeguard fish species.

IN PICTURES: Switzerland's fight to save its fish from the heatwave
Dead fish in the Rhine. Photo: Samuel Gründler/Fischereiverein Schaffhausen.

“We are extremely worried,” Philipp Sicher, head of the Swiss Fishing Federation (FSP), said in a statement late last month about the plight of fish in the current heatwave. “Indicators show that tragedy is near,” added Sicher.  

The same warning noted that when water temperatures reach between 23 and 25 degrees Celsius, the situation becomes “critical” for fish. Last weekend the temperature in parts of the Rhine river reached 27.6 degrees. 

“All waters are affected by the heatwave,” Eva Baier, water protection expert at the Swiss Fishing Federation, told The Local. “In the canton of Zurich alone, we've had to fish out and relocate the animals from 150 creeks across several hundred kilometres of watercourses,” added Baier. 

A tonne of fish have already died in the Rhine in the canton of Schaffhausen alone, according to officials. In the canton of Thurgau, farmers there face a ban on pumping surface water as of the end of last month.

Baier and her team use several techniques to attempt to safeguard fish species vulnerable to the rise in water temperatures. 

“In smaller waters, the animals are fished out using electric-fanned equipment and moved into surrounding cooler waters or, in emergency cases, to fish farms,” says Baier. 
This involves using nets with electric charge, to which the fish are attracted, according to a piece in Swiss news portal Tagezanzeiger. This technique causes fish substantial stress, however, and is only used in extreme cases. 
A preferred option is to cool the temperature of the water artificially. “In some stretches the water is aired so that enough oxygen is present,” Baier told The Local. 
Electric fans are used to cool the temperature of the water in some rivers. Photo: Samuel Gründler/Fischereiverein Schaffhausen.
The fans generate oxygen and cool the water's temperature. Photo: Samuel Gründler/Fischereiverein Schaffhausen.
“In other cases, cool water zones are created in which cooler streams are dredged and groundwater springs are placed under protection,” adds Baier. 
Salmonids such as trout and grayling suffer the most under such intense heat, explains Baier. 
A dead grayling on the floor of the Rhine Valley inland canal. Photo: SFV-FSP, Rainer Kühnis.
In many of Switzerland's water bodies, fish are fighting for their survival. Patrick Vogel Fotografie.
The Swiss Fishing Federation's rescue efforts in the face of one of the hottest and driest summers on record in Switzerland face several challenges. “The larger rivers, which have little shading, are essentially straight and have few protective structures – such as deadwood accumulations which act as safe havens for fish – make it hard to give the fish relief,” Baier told The Local.
The numbers speak for themselves. “On the Rhine between Lake Constance and Schaffhausen the situation inthe warm waters of Lake Constance is particularly precarious. There has been more than one tonne of dead fish removed, especially grayling,” says Baier. 
Dead fish in the Rhine. Photo: Patrick Vogel Fotografie.
A sign asks people not to swim in a cooler area of the Rhine where fish seek safety. Photo: SFV-FSP.
While the current heatwave is largely responsible for the plight of fish, human activity has contributed to the warming waters and the stress for several species. 
“Swiss waters are under very high pressure in terms of usage,” Baier told The Local. “The water is used for energy production, for irrigation, as drinking water, for leisure activities (swimming, sailing, fishing, excursion boats), as cooling water and for sanitation. All these activities taken together – including the warming effect caused by human-induced climate change – put the fish under enormous pressure,” added the expert. 
In many areas of the Upper Rhine Valley, safety zones have been created and swimming and sailing temporarily forbidden. 
A fish safety zone in the municipality of Diessenhofen, in the canton of Thurgau, northeast Switzerland. Photo: Samuel Gründler / Fischereiverein Schaffhausen.
Switzerland's nuclear power plants are also contributing to the fish's existential crisis. “All installations that use rivers for cooling and then return water to the watercourse contribute to the warming. Nuclear power plants have a significant impact in that respect,” says Baier. 
The Muhleberg Nuclear Power Plant near the Swiss capital Bern has been forced to reduce its energy production to protect flora and fauna in the Aar river, which the plant's cooling system uses. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP. 
Despite the best efforts to curtail human activity in some of the most vulnerable bodies of water, the relocation and fanning efforts and the creation of cool water basin safety zones, in many areas nature, or man-made disaster, has simply taken its course.
“Several smaller water bodies are almost or completely dried up,” Baier told The Local. At this stage it isn't possible to calculate the total number of fish that have died, she added. 
Approximately 70 species of fish live in Switzerland's water bodies, of which 54 are indigenous, according to 
A petition by the Swiss Fishing Federation, Aqua Viva and the WWF aims to lobby the government to implement “structural measures at power plants, so that fish can safely migrate upstream and downstream.”



For members


‘Don’t sleep naked’: How to get a good night’s sleep in a Swiss heatwave

As temperatures climb again, many people may struggle to get a good night's sleep in Switzerland. Here are some expert tips to help you even when it's sweltering hot.

‘Don’t sleep naked’: How to get a good night’s sleep in a Swiss heatwave

Switzerland’s summers tend to get hotter and this season has seen its share of heatwaves, bringing temperatures closer to 40C and making it almost impossible to sleep.

This could mean trouble for residents of a country better prepared to bear the cold weather than the extreme heat.

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has three ‘golden rules’ for how to make it through heatwaves; avoid exercise during the hottest part of the day, keep the heat out of your house however you can, drink and eat smart (fresh foods and lots of water).

With night temperatures in some regions above 20C, Swiss residents will also need some help getting through the night.

Here are a few tips to keep cool overnight and enjoy better sleep despite the heat of the night.

Don’t sleep naked

It’s tempting to ditch the PJs when it’s this warm overnight. But sleep experts say this is a mistake, as any moisture from sweat accumulates on your body.

Cotton pyjamas and cotton sheets are very effective in absorbing and removing sweat from your body.

Give a little help to your internal clock

Many people think that it is only the extreme heat in summer making your sleep seem a bit worse than in the colder months. But the fact that days are brighter for longer makes a huge difference.

READ ALSO: How Switzerland’s largest cities are combating the heat

As light suppresses our body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that signals that it is time to sleep, the longer days irritate our internal clock, according to sleep experts.

The old tip of turning off your devices to avoid the blue light is also extra crucial. So around one hour before going to bed, you can start your “darkening” ritual throughout your home.

In that sense, it’s also better to avoid naps during the day to keep a better sleep routine.

Try to cool your room and yourself

Of course, the cooler temperatures are in your bedroom when you go to sleep, the better. You can help get temperatures a few degrees down by following these tips: keep the blinds and windows shut during the worst of the day and ventilate the cooler night breeze during the night.

Sleeping during a heatwave can be difficult. Photo: Yuris Alhumaydy / Unsplash

You can also moisten your curtains just before bedtime and leave the window open; the water evaporation will make it a bit cooler. If you can, another tip is to put your mattress on the floor as hot air rises – excellent advice for those sleeping on a bunk bed.

Don’t forget to turn off (and unplug!) electrical appliances, as those are heat sources.

READ ALSO: Eight great swimming spots to escape the Swiss summer heat

To cool yourself, you could take a lukewarm evening shower (not a hot one, those will make your body react by generating heat).

Fans and humidity help

As long as you’ve kept your room relatively cool, fans work. They help evaporate sweat which, in turn, helps your body regulate its temperature.

Putting a bowl of ice in front of the fan can also help cool the room.

Some people swear by dampening their sheets before going to bed. But if you’re not used to it, the feeling can be a little disconcerting. You can also place multiple ice containers in the corners of your room, which will melt slowly overnight and cool the air.

Why is it essential to have a good night’s sleep?

Several days of scorching temperatures can cause heat stress, according to the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

If the nights are not cool enough, the body can’t recover from the heat of the day, creating a dangerous condition called “thermal stress”, which can be fatal for the elderly and other vulnerable people.

While there are no statistics showing how many people have fallen victim to heat stress during the most recent heatwave, several cantons have implemented a system of home visits and frequent phone contact with this at-risk group.

READ MORE: How to keep your cool during Switzerland’s heatwave