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Massive fish kill could spread south

Posted at 5:55 PM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-24 20:12:07-04

Scientists say the massive fish kill experienced in Brevard County could spread south.

Zack Jud, Ph.D., is the Director of Education and Exhibits with the Florida Oceanographic Society in Hutchinson Island.

He said the news of dead fish in Brevard County is "nauseating," and is extremely concerned for the waterways and wildlife there.

"We don't normally expect to see this kind of catastrophic fish kill and this type of algae bloom in the winter. We're really concerned that as water temperatures increase, as rainfall increases in the spring and summer, what we're seeing right now may be the tip of the iceberg," he said.

The fish kill spread thirty miles across the Banana River, Zack said, and killed off at least fifty species of fish.

He says the fish kill is likely the result of an algae bloom caused by nutrient rich run-off from septic systems and fertilizer used on lawns in Brevard County.

"That area has been experiencing a brown algae bloom since November, and those algae blooms can suck oxygen out of the systems so we have fish that aren't able to breathe," he said.

Zack said it's not easy for an ecosystem to recover from a fish kill like this, and that it could take years for fish to come back and thrive.

He added that what's happening in Brevard County is an "environmental and economic catastrophe" because if the fish don't come back, it could push residents and businesses out of the area.

It could also kill off other animals that rely on those fish as a food source.

Zack said that what happened to the north could spread south.

"The fish kill that happened 70 miles to our north, is really right on our doorstep. That fish kill could spread as far south as Stuart."

He said that if that happened, it would only make matters worse for the communities along the Indian River Lagoon Estuary where freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee are causing problems again.

"Combining the two together would be utter annihilation of our local estuary.  We have to reduce the amount of polluted fresh water that's coming in to the southern system, we have to reduce the amount of nutrients that are entering the entire system, we have to change the way we manage water or else there won't be an Indian River Lagoon left for future generations," Zack added.