FIU Institute of Environment researchers are investigating the cause of a fish kill reported this week in Biscayne Bay.
Todd Crowl first started receiving calls Wednesday morning. FIU’s director of the Institute of Environment started making calls of his own, deploying university research teams to pull real-time data from the bay. These FIU researchers are working closely with county, state and federal officials along with the advocacy group Miami Waterkeeper to address the very dire challenges facing Biscayne Bay. This large network of teams was ready to work together to mitigate further disaster when the dead fish first started appearing from North Miami down to the Museum Park area.
The current efforts are focused on stabilizing the bay, but simultaneously, researchers are trying to pinpoint the source of the problem. Piero Gardinali, associate director of the institute, says the cause is likely a combination of factors.
“In 2020 we learned that the bay was at a tipping point with a number of things,” said the analytic chemist and water quality expert. “Oxygen is what drives most of the life in the water so anything that consumes oxygen or produces conditions where organisms can grow and decompose is going to be a problem.”
Nutrient pollution from storm drains, fertilizer runoff and leaky septic tanks can lead to these unwanted organisms which consume oxygen desperately needed by the marine life of the bay. Other toxic contaminants, such as plastic pollution, can exasperate the situation. While it’s still too early to say what caused this latest oxygen loss in the bay, Gardinali cautions this week serves as yet one more warning sign of an ecosystem in trouble.
This is the third year in a row where dead fish have appeared almost without warning in the bay.
Last year, buoys deployed by the Institute of Environment registered low oxygen levels amid high temperatures and slower currents during Labor Day weekend just as dead fish started appearing on the surface. But it was the massive fish kill of 2020, where tens of thousands of fish and other marine life were estimated to have been killed in August, that first sounded the alarm for Biscayne Bay’s very serious troubles. It was then that these teams of researchers, advocates and government scientists and officials were brought together, sharing information, equipment, resources and ideas. Five months later, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levina Cava appointed Irela Bague as the county’s first Chief Bay Officer. Now, two years later, Biscayne Bay has a coordinated network of South Florida’s top experts fighting for its survival.
Crowl and Gardinali remain optimistic about the bay, which is ecologically and economically essential to Miami, and say it can be saved.
“The circumstances here are very sad, but we have all come together as a coordinated collaboration to solve this,” Crowl said. “And that commitment shows we are all truly in this together.”