Fish washing up on Harrison, Hancock beaches believed to be dying from a lack of oxygen

By Kate Magandy and Karen Nelson, Sun Herald
1 July 2013


AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALDCoast residents flock to the beach in Biloxi to participate in what some are calling a jubilee as thousands of fish wash ashore on Harrison and Hancock County beaches July 1.


BILOXI — Marine scientists said they believe thousands of fish were washing up on Harrison and Hancock county beaches and Cat Island early Monday because there was a lack of oxygen in the water.

Most of the fish were dead on the beaches. Some beach-goers called the event a jubilee, but that term is usually reserved for an event where live fish wash ashore or come into shallow water and can be picked up and taken home for dinner.

The Department of Marine Resources was working with the state Department of Environmental Quality and USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab to determine the cause of the hypoxia.

Possibilities discussed include an algal bloom, where algae grows in the water to the point where it depletes the oxygen and kills fish.

Also, a north wind, like the one Monday, can drop oxygen levels in already low oxygen conditions caused by warm water, DMR scientists said.

Melissa Scallan, public information officer for DMR, said they took samples in 14 areas of the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf and found widespread areas of low dissolved oxygen in the water.

"Two had high concentrations of the microscopic algae that cause blooms known as red tide," Scallan said.

The algae was not widespread, she said, but it could have aggravated an already bad situation.

"It can cause stress to the gills of fish," she said.

She said they could not calculate how long it will last.

"But it’s usually a short-lived event," Scallan said. "If the wind shifts, it may help."

A jubilee is similar, according to NOAA, in that the level of oxygen drops in the water, but rather than killing the fish, it pushes live marine life closer to shore. Jubilees have been reported in only a few places, most notably the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.