A million fish, released from a rapidly freezing pond


In far western Mongolia, 40 rangers were attending a WWF workshop in December 2022 when they received an unexpected invitation to participate in a real-world training exercise. A local herder had discovered more than a million Potanin’s osman fish trapped in a rapidly freezing pond. Workshop participants rushed to the rescue, knowing the fish would die if they didn’t act fast.


After a hot summer and a year of scant precipitation, water levels in Achit Lake and surrounding areas were extremely low. When the rangers arrived, they found only a tiny unfrozen area—smaller than the footprint of the average two-car garage—in the middle of the shallow pond.


The rangers joined around 10 local residents in breaking through the iced-over pond with shovels and axes, then scooped fish from the frigid water with nets and makeshift implements—a laundry basket, a milk cannister, a saucepan.


The juvenile Potanin’s osman (Oreoleuciscus potanini) fish were just a few inches long, but survivors would grow to more than 30 inches and weigh up to 22 lbs. Found only in Mongolia and parts of Russia, the species faces threats like illegal fishing, hydropower, and habitat degradation—dangers exacerbated by climate change.


Rescuers transported the minnows in barrels to the Khovd River, about five miles away. The nearly 20-hour effort resulted in the relocation of more than half a million fish.

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