Marine life expert provides insight into issues created by spillway opening

Updated: May. 31, 2019 at 8:57 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The alarming number of dead animals on Mississippi beaches continues growing. The latest figures show 114 dolphins and 145 turtles have washed ashore dead on the Mississippi coastal beaches so far this year.

Marcus Drymon is a fisheries ecologist and studies sharks for Mississippi State University. This week while doing research on the water, Drymon discovered multiple irregularities.

“Immediately we got those readings back, and I would say that’s not normal. This is not what we expect to see in this part of the world in late May,” Drymon said.

Specifically, one of the biggest irregularities is the salinity level and not just in the Mississippi Sound. Drymon said he found significantly low levels as far south as 10-15 miles off the shore.

“I was surprised that there was such a large lens of fresh water that far off shore,” Drymon said. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around how much water is coming out of that spillway, but it’s an incredible amount, and it has the ability to make its way out of the Mississippi Sound and create these lenses of fresh water farther off shore than you would expect.”

The latest salinity levels recorded on Friday in the Sound were from zero to two parts per thousand. The normal summer average is 18-22 parts per thousand. According to Drymon, these are troubling statistics for marine life survival.

“Animals will live in the saltiest or least salty water that they can possibly stand,” Drymon said. “If it finds itself in water that’s much saltier than that or, in this case, much fresher than that they simply die. Physiologically, they can’t deal with that abrupt of a change.”

For now the Bonnet Carré Spillway remains open, and although Drymon doesn’t think the impacts will be easy to overcome, he’s optimistic the Mississippi Sound will bounce back.

“We’re talking about a huge body of water that has to be turned over. All of that has to leave, and the salt water has to come back in. That will happen, but it’s going to take a little time," he said.

Drymon added he would like to see other options to alleviate flooding on the Mississippi River explored before the Bonnet Carré Spillway is opened in the future.

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