HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Researchers now know what caused a widespread fish kill along the beaches of South Mississippi Monday. Thousands of dead fish started washing ashore in Harrison County, Hancock County, and Cat Island in the early morning hours.
The Department of Marine Resources says one reason is low oxygen levels, due to the warm water. Several samples also pointed to Red Tide algae blooms in the Mississippi Sound that can deplete the oxygen and clog the gills of fish.
Many families took advantage of the event, calling it a "July Jubilee." They didn't seem to mind the dead fish and sting rays floating in the water and lying on the beach.
Hundreds of people were lured to the shores of Harrison County, after learning about an abundance of available seafood. There were a lot of flounder, white trout, speckled trout and ground mullet that you could catch with your bare hands.
"They're just floating on the surface," said Jordan Mathews of Biloxi. "I was watching the news this morning. I saw there was a Jubilee and some of my friends were out here gigging flounders, so I came out here to see what it was all about."
"What it appears to be is a Jubilee, or Red Tide. When the oxygen level is low in the water, the fish would come up next to the shoreline to try to get air," explained Chuck Loftis, Harrison County Sand Beach Director.
And that meant plenty of seafood up for grabs. The most popular was jumbo shrimp. David Morgan brought his grandson along for the fish free-for-all.
"They're just laying on the bottom. They're fresh dead. It's like a shopping spree at the seafood market. You just pick them up," said Morgan.
DMR officials are advising people that if you pick up fish in the water and they're still alive, they should be safe to eat. However, if you see ones that have washed ashore, don't pick them up or eat them.
"Good Fourth of July feast," said Morgan.
When asked if he thinks the seafood is safe to eat, he replied, "Definitely. People have been doing this on the coast for decades. None of us dead yet."
It wasn't the beach scene tourists expected to see.
"This is the wildest thing we've ever seen. We've never seen so many dead fish or sting rays, jelly fish. Kind of put a hamper on our swimming on the beach though," said Laura Held of Missouri.
"The beaches are open. None of the beaches are closed. Hopefully, within the next two days, we'll have all this taken care of," said Loftis.
He said the cleanup should be done in time for the Fourth of July fun and festivities on the beach.
In Harrison County, most of the dead fish were found between the Long Beach Harbor and the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Gulf Coast Research Lab are also studying the fish kill.