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In 1986 a fire at the Santoz chemical plant in Switzerland had disastrous consequences for the Rhine. Thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals were washed into the river and millions of fish and other wildlife were killed. There was a public outcry and politicians from all the Rhine countries agreed that action had to be taken. The result was the Rhine Action Programme of 1987.
The agreement is sometimes known as 'Salmon 2000' because its stated target was to see the return of salmon to the Rhine by the year 2000. At the time this was thought to be an unlikely outcome - the salmon is very sensitive to water quality and the last fish had been caught in the Rhine in the 1930s. How could the Rhine recover in such a short time?
The Rhine Action Programme stated that by 1995:
The Rhine Action Plan was never part of EU law but depended on international cooperation for its success. It was implemented and monitored by the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine.
It's been very successful. There's been a 50% reduction in pollution by nitrates and phosphorus, and some other types of pollution have been reduced by 80 to 100%. And in 1997, three years ahead of schedule, salmon returned to the Rhine.