Skip to main content

The Massive Fish Kill Florida Could Have Prevented

Susan Frazier/CC BY-NC 2.0

A snowy egret stands among dead fish in Florida in 2012. Fish are now dying in the Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River following a brown algae outbreak that was sparked by fertilizer, sewage and manure pollution.

Susan Frazier/CC BY-NC 2.0

The environmental news this Florida tourist season continues to get more horrific.

We reported earlier this month about the polluted water spewing onto Florida’s east and west coasts from Lake Okeechobee, turning blue waters brown and disgusting.

Now, dead fish of all varieties are floating belly-up in the waters of the Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River on Florida’s upper southeast coast. The culprit is a brown algae outbreak sparked by fertilizer, manure, and sewage pollution.

Dead fish in the Indian River
Fish float in Florida's Indian River following a brown algae outbreak caused by water pollution.
Photo courtesy of Marjorie Shropshire

The algae explosion robs the water of oxygen, and everything in the water dies. We at the Earthjustice Florida office have spent years trying to get meaningful regulations to restrict this type of pollution, and we’ve had to battle the nation’s largest polluters—and their politician friends—every step of the way.

Now, this failure to regulate pollution has come home to roost in the form of this massive fish kill, stretching for miles on waterways between the Space Coast towns of Titusville and Palm Bay. Tourists arriving in sunny Florida to embark on cruise ships out of Port Canaveral have been met by a nauseating stench and a disgusting sight. Local officials have hurriedly installed dumpsters at boat ramps and waterfront parks so that residents can scoop up the fish and dispose of them.

Long-time fishing columnist Ed Killer, who writes for Treasure Coast-Palm Coast newspapers, put it best:

“I'm sick of this.

“I'm sick of writing about fish kills.

“I'm sick of writing about algae blooms. And discharges. And brown tides, and red tides and toxic bacteria.

“I'm sick of writing about barren flats because the sea grass no longer grows there.

“I'm sick of writing about politicians who can tell us with a wink they're working to fix Florida's water problems. I'm sick of the back hallways where those same elected officials make secret handshakes and accept cash from special interest groups.

“I'm sick of the status quo those special interest groups ensure that pollutes, diverts, abuses, misuses and exploits what once were pristine waters.

“I'm sick of receiving press releases from leaders and agencies whose salaries we pay and whom we entrust to protect our waterways, instead telling us to mind our business, keep our mouths shut and stop being activists. I'm sick of those agencies issuing permits to violate laws of common sense, and then turning their back on clear violations of environmental laws and policies.”

Indian River Fish Kill
Dead fish cover the Indian River's surface following an outbreak of toxic algae.
Photo Courtesy of Alex Gorichky

We couldn’t agree more. Our hearts go out to the anglers, the paddle boarders, the boaters and the families along the Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River. We’re doing all we can to get meaningful regulations to stop tragedies like this from continuing to ruin our beautiful Florida. This type of pollution and devastation is preventable, but we need to insist that our leaders stand up and prevent it. 

Terms of Use

The Earthjustice blog is a forum for public discussion of issues related to Earthjustice’s work. Commenters are asked to stay on topic and avoid content that is defamatory, offensive, abusive or intended to promote commercial interests. Because Earthjustice does not support or endorse candidates for any elective office, comments should refrain from endorsing or opposing candidates for office and political parties, either explicitly or by implication. We reserve the right to remove any comment that violates these terms.