Scientists say oil could play a role in recent fish kills

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Researchers spend hours pouring over scientific data, trying to gauge the impact of the oil spill.  Answers are elusive.

One fact is certain: oceans of dead fish are washing up on South Mississippi beaches.

Rich Fulford is a fisheries scientist at the Gulf Coast Research lab, and he has a theory about what's happening.

"We're seeing fish kills that are maybe due to perfectly normal things, like seasonal hypoxia being the most likely event," Fulford said.  "We have a lot of that in the summertime.  Oxygen drops and it affects everything that's there. And if it's severe enough, it's going to start killing things off."

But why so little oxygen in the water?  The answer may be found in Louisiana's efforts to combat the oil spill using fresh water. That's according to Read Hendon, the assistant fisheries director.

"We saw the same thing either last year or the year before when they opened the Bonnie Carre spillway," Hendon said.  "When you get the fresh water that comes out that will stimulate algae growth. As those algae die, they sink to the bottom. That's where you get the microbe degradation and that uses up the oxygen."

While most scientists agree that natural occurrences are causing these fish kills, they are also not discounting the possibility the oil could have something to do with it.  Fulford has a theory.

"There may be an effect, because one of the things we're interested in right now is not so much that the oil spill is going to cause the death of fish, but it's going to have a stress effect."

But Hendon said there's also another reason everyone is so worried about the recent fish kills.

"They're being publicized more in the media because everyone is so aware in what's going on out there because of the oil"

Scientists at the Gulf Coast Research Lab say it will be years before the full impact of the oil spill is known.  But they are committed to finding out, no matter how long it takes.

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