Saturday, January 09, 2010

Chill Fish Kill

Vero Beach, FL

Now I sound like a headline writer for the NY Daily News. Chill Fish Kill indeed.

Most of the country is cold. It's probably very cold where you are today. You've read about my whining about the cold in this blog. You may have heard about the problems Florida farmers have and how the fruit and vegetable crops may be ruined for this year. If not, you'll probably learn about that in the supermarket in the coming months. What you may not have heard is the local story about marine wildlife.

You see the Indian River Lagoon is mostly shallow. The average water depth is only 3-4 feet. That means that water temperature all the way to the bottom follows air temperature within a few days.

Yesterday morning on the local radio we heard that 100 sea turtles had to be rescued from the Mosquito Lagoon. The had been cold shocked by the rapid change in temperature and were in danger of dying. The rescuers moved them to a heated pool someplace.

Manatees are able to survive the cold weather better, but they sure don't like it. They crowd up into the far end of the canals where the warmer is a fraction of a degree warmer.

Rowing to shore on the dinghy yesterday I noticed that the water is much clearer than I've ever seen it before in Vero. Libby theorized that the cold killed the algae. Perhaps so.

I noticed that the ever present pelicans were behaving oddly. Usually they fly around and dive when they spot a fish to eat. Yesterday they were just paddling around like ducks plucking lethargic fish out of the water pop pop pop. I saw one pelican eat three fish in 45 seconds.

Looking down, I could see the bottom. It was littered with dead fish.

On shore I saw a man holding up a huge trophy fish. I went to congratulate him on his catch. He said that he just picked up this 20 pound snook laying dead on the shore. He was taking it home as food. He told me that 13 years ago he was a commercial fisherman. There was a cold spell here in Vero that killed hundreds of tons of fish. That day that man in his boat picked up 700 pounds of fish with a dip net. For weeks afterward the area stunk of rotting bodies. It took years for the fish population to recover.

Today is the coldest day of all. The low temperature is 35f(2C) and the high is only 45F(7C). The previous cold days, the daytime high has been close to 60F(16C). There may be many more dead fish today. How sad.

If I am brave, I'll go around the mangroves in the dinghy and perhaps find a trophy fish for ourselves. We could eat for a week from a 20 pound fish.

It seems like a terrible waste to let them rot. On the other hand, Libby has a deep instinctual aversion to picking up any dead animal to eat. On the third hand, I'll freeze my nuggie off paddling around in the dinghy this morning. It's raining, windy and very very cold.

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