March 24, 2016
Latest news on ecosystem devastation
Florida Sportsman is investigating a massive fish kill in the northern Indian and Banana River system. Based on preliminary discussions with scientists, and data from sensors managed by the St. Johns River Water Managment District, it appears the fish kill is linked to low dissolved oxygen (DO) levels, likely resulting from the dieoff of a persistent brown algae that has discolored waters there for many months.
Seasonal DO levels in the watershed usually vary from 6 to 11 milligrams per liter, but plummeted to as low as 1.23 in Cocoa Beach on March 20.
According to East Central Field Editor Bill Sargent, multiple species of fish have been observed floating or washing up on shorelines from as far north as Mosquito Lagoon south of Oak Hill, along the Indian and Banana rivers in Brevard County, and as far south on the Indian River as Melbourne and Palm Bay. Sargent, a Melbourne native who has been reporting in this region for 47 years, described the kill as “greater than anything we've seen before outside of winter kills.
“Judging from Facebook pictures, heaviest concentrations of dead fish have been in Central Brevard County, especially on the Banana River around Cocoa Beach,” Sargent said. “The Banana River ends at the south end of Merritt Island at Melbourne. In the last couple days strong northerly winds have pushed concentrations of dead fish to edges of causeways and into canals and other shorelines, making the kill more evident.”
Sargent said most of the photos showed baitfish, but some pictures showed hundreds of sheepshead and/or juvenile black drum (hard to tell from pics), hundreds of catfish, plus a few adult redfish, adult seatrout, mullet, and even stingrays.
Kayak fishing expert Peter Hinck, of Sebastian, drove up through the region on Tuesday of this week, taking photos along the Eau Gallie and Pineda Causeways. “There were thousands of puffer fish washed into the rocks with a mix of flounder, trout, redfish, black drum, mullet, and rays,” he said. “I've seen every fish that swims in the river dead but one. Thousands of dead fish and not one was a snook. I hope they made their way to Sebastian.
Guide and outdoors writer Capt. John Kumiski, who's fished the region and reported on environmental issues there for decades, described the once-clear lagoon waters in recent times as resembling the “Mississippi river, but without the fish.”
Staff at the FWC Melbourne Fisheries Field Lab have been collecting water samples and fish samples. Biological scientist Jake Schneider said it's too early to determine to what extent fish populations have been compromised by the kill. “That's a big question, and we'll have to look at the populations before and after this event. Right now I can't give a good answer on that,” he said.
Brevard County fishermen and watersports enthusiasts will be holding a roadside rally on Saturday, March 26, on Hwy. 520 and A1A, near Ron Jon's Surf Shop. The hours are 2 to 6 p.m. Captain Alex Gorichky, on Facebook, described the event as an opportunity to “show our neighbors this lagoon is in trouble. Amazingly some still have no idea of the situation we have been in for years. Come one, come all. Make a sign, stand with your neighbors for a clean lagoon.”
The FWC has a discussion on the connections between algae blooms, oxygen levels and fish kills here: http://myfwc.com/conservation/you-conserve/recreation/pond-management/fish-kills/
The St. Johns River Water Management District has been studying the brown algae (evidently a non-native species) and possible causes of seasonal blooms. http://webapub.sjrwmd.com/agws10/news_release/ViewNews.aspx?nrd=nr16-017
Joey Seidler, a fisherman from Satellite Beach, took the above video Tuesday, March 22, on the eastern shore of the Banana River along Patrick Air Force Base. "It was shocking," Seidler said. "I've seen fish kills but nothing of this magnitude or across so many sizes and species of fish. The worst part was the large breeder redfish."
Justin Vaden, Titusville resident and fisherman, collected more video of the Banana River Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on midday on March 18, and added footage on the 21st. “I stopped there at lunch on shore to take more videos.” Vaden said. He's been fishing the area about 25 years. “I've never seen it that bad.” Links to Vaden's footage may be found under the Merritt Island Fish Kill thread in the East Central Forum.
The FWC has a page which offers guidance to anglers on reporting fish kills: http://myfwc.com/FishKill