Why thousands of fish washed up on these Texas beaches - NPR

Over the past weekend, troves of dead fish appeared on the shores of multiple beaches in southeast Texas, after struggling to find enough oxygen underwater.

Quintana Beach County Park announced on Friday that dead fish were washing up by the thousands. The department warned the public to stay clear of the local beaches until all the fish had been cleared, due to risk of being exposed to bacteria and sharp fins.

When asked what contributed to the fish deaths, Quintana Beach County Park officials said it was a “perfect storm” of factors.

First, warm water is not ideal for fish. It tends to hold less oxygen. That is especially true in shallow water, which heats up quicker. So, a school of fish likely found themselves deprived of oxygen as they swam though shallow waters in the summertime.

Another problem was that seas near county beaches were quite calm over the past few weeks, meaning there were few waves and winds to help redistribute oxygen in the water.

Over the past few days, the skies above the the beaches were cloudy. That is an issue for phytoplankton, which help produce oxygen in the water by using photosynthesis. That process is driven by sunlight. So, the less they are exposed to the sun by way of overcast, the less oxygen phytoplankton produce.

Most of the fish found dead were Gulf menhaden.

Because this species is a popular snack for sea animals, there are potential benefits to the massive die-off, according to Katie St. Clair, the manager of the sea life facility at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Fish kills are common in the warmer months, like summer time. But oceans at large are heating up because of human-caused climate change.

Warmer oceans trigger a cascade of other changes to the ecosystem and the economy. One study from the SeaDoc Society at the University of California, Davis found that starfish were more susceptible to disease because of warm water anomalies. The Environmental Protection Agency also found that fish species are leaving their natural habitat in search for cooler waters, disrupting the fishing industry.

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Locations: Texas Quintana Beach County Park 

Organizations: Texas A&M University SeaDoc Society Environmental Protection Agency 

Tags: Climate Change Ocean 

Type: Headlines