An earthquake has killed millions of fish and forced thousands of people to flee their homes, and some scientists are concerned that it’s the beginning of an extinction crisis.
The earthquake on March 11, 2015, killed more than 1,000 people in the Philippines, the Philippines’ poorest country, and left tens of thousands homeless, according to government estimates.
The quake caused landslides that buried more than a million homes in the mountainous regions of the country, including in the capital Manila, according the Philippine Institute of Geosciences.
In the aftermath, scientists say the damage caused by the earthquake could have been far worse.
“It is a very, very, dangerous event,” said Richard Ting, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
“It’s just a case of what happens when there’s a large earthquake.”
As of early May, scientists had identified some 4,000 species of fish killed in the earthquake, according an analysis by the US Geological Survey.
That’s more than the 1,900 species that are thought to be killed in all of the world’s earthquakes, according Ting.
But there’s one fish that could be particularly vulnerable to extinction: the prawn.
In its native habitat in the South China Sea, prawns can reach a maximum weight of 3 pounds and are known for their deep-set eyes, according Toonan Institute of Marine Biology and Fisheries Research.
The prawn’s ability to survive earthquakes is also considered a key trait for survival.
The study said the prawls species are particularly vulnerable when earthquakes hit, as well as when they are trapped in flooded areas.
In the past, scientists have noted that prawn populations were decimated when tsunamis swept through coastal regions in Asia.
In 2015, the Philippine government declared a state of emergency after a tsunami struck the country’s coastal provinces.
The disaster killed more to than 2,000, with the majority of the fatalities in Manila and the capital city, where a few hundred prawn fishermen were killed, according AFP.
The Philippine government also warned that the quake would have severe consequences for the fish and the ecosystem it supports, but said the government’s emergency declaration was temporary, and the government is working to rebuild after the earthquake.
Ting said it’s difficult to predict how long it will take for the effects of the quake to be felt, and that the impacts will be felt far beyond the coastal areas.
For instance, it’s not uncommon for some fish to live for more than 100 years, and there are more than 30 species of prawn that can grow up to 20 years, according Marine Conservation Society.
“We’re seeing that there is a significant risk of extinction, even before the earthquake,” Ting said.
“Even if there are 100 million fish left alive, it won’t be long before they go extinct.”
In an effort to help ensure the fish survive, the government has begun issuing a voluntary recall program for prawn caught in flooded waters.
If a fisherman has caught prawn, they must immediately take it back to their home, and any additional prawn should be discarded, the marine conservation group said.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Ting noted that the fish can be very difficult to catch.
“There’s a big difference between catching a prawn and getting caught by a fisherman in the wild,” he said.
“So, it really depends on where you’re going to catch it, how deep it’s going to go, and what you’re trying to do with it.”