FGCU Water School and Mote Marine Lab study decomposing fish

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Melissa Montoya
Published: Updated:

An experiment into the effects of dead fish on red tide show that fish carcasses could be supplying nutrients to the algal bloom that could make them worse.

Researchers at the Water School at FGCU and the Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota have been studying how dead fish affect red tide, which plagued Southwest Florida beaches in 2018.

Most recently, on Tuesday, a red tide bloom was reported at Lighthouse Beach Park on Sanibel prompted the Florida Department of Health in Lee County to a health alert.

The Water School at FGCU and the Mote Marine Lab received funding to study the issue.

“It looks, at least in our first experiment, the fish were releasing about three times more nutrients than previous studies have demonstrated which could indicate we’re underestimating just how important the fish are in supplying nutrients for red tide,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, a professor of marine science and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute and the Vester Marine & Environmental Science Field Station at FGCU.

The experiments could also give dead fish a new purpose.

The dead fish used in the composting portion of the study were not part of a red tide kill, but answers could show researchers what can be done with future fish killed by red tide

“We’re just going to be doing it with fish carcasses that we have that were just kind of laying around,” said Adam Catasus, research and education coordinator at the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University. “We’ve been saving them to just see if this composting is doable.”

The next step is for researchers to determine if the toxin in the fish breaks down, Catasus said.

But for now, the Water School will have to wait for a red tide bloom to kill fish because it’s too expensive to add toxins to the fish.

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