Empty lakes: how climate change and pollution devastated Egyptian fisheries

In this two part investigative series, Eman Mounir sheds light on the impact of the industrial sector on Egyptian fisheries.
In this two part investigative series, Eman Mounir sheds light on the impact of the industrial sector on Egyptian fisheries.

The fish farmers of Shata region, in Egypt’s northeast coast, say they love Lake Manzala. But even though they have lived their whole lives on its banks, they also claim it no longer repays their love. 

Although previously abundant, fish are now harder to find in the Egyptian regions of Shata and Al-Qabouti. Both regions surround Lake Manzala and used to have important artisanal fishing industries… until recent years.

Due to lack of infrastructure, locals have historically dumped their waste into the lake, but in recent decades big factories have poured toxic chemicals into its waters. Although there were environmental regulations to prevent this, authorities did not effectively enforce them.

Climate change is now making the situation worse, as the temperature of the water in the lake which includes the shata region is highly affected by the air temperature due to water shallowness. 

As a result, fisheries are paying a high price for both pollution and climate pressures, Climate Tracker confirmed through field visits in the area, official documentation and by conducting water, soil and fish analysis. 

Meanwhile, the local government of Shata region neglects the building of sewage stations in nearby villages, which could help mitigate the damage. This forces locals to dump their sewage into the water.

In Port Said, the village of fishermen near lake Mazala—which even resisted the impacts of  War 1973 —, is now vacant and covered with rubbish from massive factories. Its inhabitants have abandoned it in search of work elsewhere.

Back in 2010, this village had a population of 100.000 people. 90% of its inhabitants worked in fisheries, catching Sea bream, mullet family, tilapia and henchan species from Al- Qabouti Lake which overlooked their homes and also connected to Lake Manzala and the Suez Canal.

Then, as years progressed, fishermen were forced to abandon their boats near the coast of Lake Al-Qabouti, as industrial drainage from the area’s factories occupied the already small lake. The population of this village reduced to 45.000 people in 2021.

Water analysis and official documentation obtained by Climate Tracker confirmed the heavy impacts of pollution from chemical factories, which combined with climate change to devastate the local fishing industry.

The lake that connects Shata and Al-Qabouti was dirty and neglected for decades, before the current government began cleaning it up in 2020. However, in spite of efforts, both areas remain polluted.

 In Al-Qabouti, 50.4 Km from Shata, fishermen have migrated for fear of meeting the fate of their colleagues, whose sick bodies fill hospital beds.

This two-part investigation deals with the effects of climate change and pollution on fishermen in Lake Manzala, where sanitation and climate impacts have killed most of the fish and doubled the fish farmer’s debts to the Egyptian Fisheries Authority.


Investigation: Eman Mounir
Photography: Ali Zarai
Video: Chrouq Ghoniem

This publication was made possible through the Candid Journalism Grant 2021

Eman Mounir
Eman is an independent investigative journalist from Egypt. Keenly interested in scientific, environmental, and feminist stories, she’s received an award in New Media from the University of Bournemouth in the UK, and other award in scientific journalism from the German Goethe Institute. She’s currently nominated for the True Story Prize in Switzerland, and previously nominated for Thomson Foundation’s Young Journalist Award. Eman studied Data Journalism with a 6-month diploma by ICFJ and ARIJ Network for Investigative Journalism. Currently, she is a fellow to ONE WORLD MEDIA foundation in United Kingdom.