Officials monitor minor fish kills

Minor fish kills reported in the Sykes Creek area in Merritt Island, and fish seen dead and gasping for air in the Cocoa Beach area on April 10, may not be as severe as the massive fish kill of 2016, but current algae blooms and poor water quality make county officials reluctant to say the Indian River Lagoon has dodged a bullet.

Rain and wind from a cold front passing through helped change the trajectory of the current fish kill, but predicting large fish kills is dicey due to a multitude of variables, said Terry Williamson, lead environmental scientist for Brevard County Natural Resources Department.

Cocoa Beach residents reported hundreds of fish gasping for air at the surface of the Banana River on April 10. At least half a dozen dolphins were seen feverishly feeding on them for two hours in one section of the river near Lori Wilson Park, and several otters later came to pick off the fish, too.

Long-time residents in the area said the dolphin feeding frenzy in particular was a bad omen: The last time a similar scene happened was just before the massive 2016 fish kill.

Preceding the 2016 event there was a greater drop in dissolved oxygen over a larger area in 2016, and sunny weather which boosted oxygen levels in the Sykes Creek area, he said.

“Yes, I think the sunnier weather over the past couple days has improved our chances’’ of a less severe fish kill, he said.

The nature of most algal bloom events makes it tough to predict where and when a bloom will occur or how long it will last, or whether it will result in a fish kill. However, lessening the negative effects of algal blooms, such as fish kills, is possible through restoration work to improve water quality by reducing nutrients as is being undertaken by several agencies, he said.

“Reducing levels of nitrogen and phosphorous can lead to fewer, less intense and shorter algal blooms because those are two nutrients are needed in large quantities,’’ he said.

Correspondent Jan Wesner Childs contributed to this report.

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