Concern grows over dead sea life as spillway impact stretches to Mississippi barrier islands

Sunday marked 80 days that the Bonnet Carré spillway has been open so far this year.
Updated: Jun. 16, 2019 at 9:35 PM CDT
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HORN ISLAND, Miss. (WLOX) - Sunday marked 80 days that the Bonnet Carré Spillway has been open so far this year. The latest opening on May 10 was the second time this year, a first in the 88-year history of the spillway. During that time, trillions of gallons of fresh water from the Mississippi River has found its way into the saltwater environment of the Mississippi Sound.

The impact is not just limited to the mainland. It can be seen on our barrier islands as well, including Horn Island. At first glance, the island seems beautiful and pristine, but a closer look reveals trouble. The water isn’t as clear as it should be, and disturbing sights can be found on the beach, including plenty of dead fish that have washed up.

Those who come to the island have noticed, including Jamie Jenkins.

“Obviously this is a resource that we enjoy. We have a boat to come out onto the water. We like to fish. The biggest concern is what does it do to the fishing," Jenkins said.

The long-term impact of what’s being called by state officials a disaster is on the minds of many, like Bill Kilduff III.

“It’s the marine life that we’re so accustomed to and appreciate here. When you alter the ecosystem with the influx of fresh water, it could be catastrophic. Just to get back to normal really," he said.

Wendy LaCaze has a unique perspective. She’ s from the Kiln but lives in New Orleans now.

“I think it’s the same as everybody else’s concern. Anytime you introduce a foreign body of water, you’re going to have things that happen that you don’t expect. We’re having issues in Lake Pontchartrain with algae build-up," she said.

One of the major problems with the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway is the low salinity in the Mississippi Sound. On Horn Island, you take the water, you taste it, and there is hardly any salt at all. That has impacted sea life, from dolphins to turtles and fish. That has island visitors very upset.

“We’re very concerned. There are a lot of dolphins floating up, and we’ve noticed a lot of dead fish floating coming over. Apparently, there’s a lot of fresh water coming through here," said Doug Slonaker.

These visitors are happy that state-elected officials have taken this seriously and are now demanding answers from the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We have to have a seat at the table and be part of that conversation to make sure that people understand that whenever they do open these spillways, that there is an impact to Mississippi, to the residents and the ability to enjoy the recreational activities that we have with the waters here," Jenkins said.

As of Sunday, there’s been no indication from the Army Corps of Engineers about when the spillway may be closed.

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