Scientists Worry About Larger Marine Life Suffering in Biscayne Bay

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. – Researchers from The Institute of Environment at Florida International University have joined the group of scientists who are investigating the recent dead-fish sightings in Miami-Dade County’s Biscayne Bay.

Witnesses reported thousands of dead fish washed ashore as far north as 135th Street in North Miami and as far south as Miami’s Museum Park area. There were fewer dead fish on Wednesday, but scientists were worried about new reports of larger marine life suffering in Biscayne Bay.

FIU researchers are focusing on the area off of Morningside Park where the fish kill appears to have started. Miami Waterkeeper, an advocacy group, reported a high level of bacteria in the area.

“It’s an emergency. The Bay is not in a good place right now,” said Piero Gardinali, associate professor at FIU. “It’s a warning sign.”

Gardinali said a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water is to blame. He also said toxic compounds coming from storm drain, fertilizer runoff, leaky septic tanks and plastic also decrease water quality.

North Bay Village residents were complaining about the stench coming from the water. Witnesses reported sightings of marine life struggling to survive at Morningside Park, Legion Park and Pelican Harbor.

The mystery that researchers are working to solve: What exactly prompted the lack of oxygen that is causing the sudden fish kill event?

To gather data, Brad Schonhoff, FIU Southeast Environmental Research Center’s program manager, said he is using an autonomous surface vehicle, a small vessel that operates with a crew.

Miami Waterkeeper researchers have warned about the dangers of algae blooms and seagrass die-offs. And according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the dissolved-oxygen concentration sometimes drops too low during algal blooms.

Temperature is also a factor to consider. The warmer the water the less oxygen it holds. The summer heat in combination with the nutrient pollution caused by algal blooms consuming oxygen as they die and decompose can create dead zones, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The city of Miami has a fertilizer ordinance to help reduce nutrients in the bay. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said that what is happening in Biscayne Bay is unprecedented.

“There were warning signs last year when the seagrass began withering, but fish dying at this level is proof of increasingly uninhabitable waters and this is unacceptable,” Suarez wrote on Twitter.