Thousands of Dead Fish and Other Sea Life Wash Ashore in Florida

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images

In a scene that seems biblical, thousands of dead fish and sea life wash ashore in Florida this week. An algae bloom reportedly killed off the sea life in large quantities.

Thousands of dead rays, shrimp, trout, pinfish, whiting, and other sea life washed to shore along Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. People could see the carcasses along the waterways from Titusville to Cocoa. The phenomena didn’t surprise biologists who have been discussing the lagoon’s algae bloom for months.

Algae blooms are an environmental hazard caused by pollution in the waterways. Algae feed on sewage and fertilizer in the water, causing their numbers to increase. When the algae die and rot, they lower the water’s oxygen levels causing sea life to suffocate to death.

A similar event happened to the lagoon in 2016. Many dubbed the wide-spread deaths a “fish-apocalypse” at the time. According to biologists, cold, windy weather will help reduce the number of deaths this time around. Algae blooms thrive in warm water.

“The scope of this is not near the scope of the 2016 fish kill, so we’re probably looking at thousands of fish,” Duane DeFreese told USA TODAY. DeFreese is the executive director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. “This should sort of shock that bloom a little bit with these colder temperatures.”

Advocates Try to Save the Florida Lagoon

Each algae bloom further harms the lagoon’s ecosystem with the mass deaths of sea life. Advocates have worked to try to save the lagoon before all of its inhabitants are gone. But they may be working against a ticking clock.

“It almost feels as though we’re watching the end of what was a great thing,” Alex Gorichky, a fishing charter captain in Brevard County, told the outlet. “We’ve kind of lost that ‘world-class fishing’ moniker.”

The specific algae responsible for the mass deaths are marine cyanobacteria. The algae are common in the lagoon. But in recent years, its numbers have bloomed to dangerous levels.

 “It’s not a species we’ve seen bloom before,” DeFreese said. The cold weather has helped lower the algae’s numbers.  “I think we’ve gotten a bit of a short term reprieve with this cold and these winds.”