MASONBORO ISLAND, NC (WECT) – Hundreds of thousands of dead fish have been reported this week at Masonboro Island by state environmental officials, according to a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Environmental officials explain that the fish, Atlantic menhaden, which travel in very large groups, took a wrong turn, up Loosins Creek.
In under an hour, the area caused dissolved oxygen levels in the water to drop to close to zero, which ended up killing them.
As a result, the dead fish have been discovered along the island's beaches and in the water.
Officials say they've noticed a pattern of dead fish in winter months and attribute it to the menhaden tightening their school.
Workers with Coastal Management, Water Quality and Marine Fisheries are keeping an eye on the area, and throughout the weekend, dead fish will probably continue to surface.
The workers have a monitoring station set up that checks the water for dissolved oxygen levels, temperature, pH levels and other data.
"This may be the first time we have had continuous monitoring of water quality in an area at the exact time of a fish kill," said Jim Gregson, Surface Water Protection supervisor for the state Division of Water Quality, in a statement. "The data recorded by Coastal Management's monitoring station was a big help in determining the cause of this event."
"You want to make sure it's not an algae or something that could be a concern for human health and a lot of times, you don't know what caused it," said Stephanie Garrett, who is with NCDENR. "Being able to look at what the physical conditions were at the time, you can see that they just ran out of oxygen."
Officials say that while the dead fish don't necessarily pose a danger to humans, they want to make visitors aware of the occurrence.
"With the weekend going to be nice and people going to be on the beaches, they're going to see dead fish," Garrett warned.