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Why did thousands of dead fish wash up on Texas beaches?

Thousands of fish have appeared dead off Quintana, a beach in the Texas Gulf in the southern United States, since Friday of last week.

By groundreportdesk
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Why did thousands of dead fish wash up on Texas beaches?

Thousands of fish have appeared dead off Quintana, a beach in the Texas Gulf in the southern United States. Texan authorities say one of the reasons this phenomenon occurred was a sudden rise in water temperature and a drop in oxygen levels.

Brazoria County park officials say they are already working to remove the fish carcasses and clean up the shoreline, though they expected thousands more fish to wash up on land.

Authorities initially urged people to stay away from beaches due to high bacteria levels and sharp fins. On Tuesday, after the employees cleaned up or buried the dead fish, they gave the all-clear for the bathers to return.

Why did the fish die in Quintana Beach?

Brazoria County Parks Department Director Bryan Frazier told the New York Times this happened because of a "perfect storm" of bad conditions. Hot water contains much less oxygen than cold water, he explained.

When schools of fish are trapped in shallow, warm water, above 21°C, they can begin to act erratically as they are starved for oxygen, further depleting the oxygen in the water.

Also, the nearshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Brazoria County have been calm for the past three weeks, with limited wave action. This means that very little oxygen had been getting into the water by mixing at the surface.

Waves add oxygen to the water. With clouds blocking the sun, microscopic phytoplankton and macroalgae are unable to photosynthesize as much and produce less oxygen as a result.

Katie St. Clair, the marine life facilities manager at Texas A&M University in Galveston, told the Times that warming Gulf Coast waters through climate change could have contributed to the fish die-offs.

"When it comes time to see the water temperature rise, this could certainly lead to more of these events happening," St. Clair said. "Especially in our shallow, nearshore or inshore environments."

Why does it happen in summer?

These types of fish deaths, however, are not all that uncommon, according to local authorities.

"It's a bit alarming to see a wave of dead fish come ashore," Frazier told the Times.

He added that local water conditions would improve as ocean waves add oxygen back into the water and as fish swim away from low-oxygen areas.

"Mother Nature has a way of balancing that," Frazier said. "She should correct herself here in the fairly near future."

"Foot kills like this are common in the summer when temperatures rise," according to a statement shared on the Quintana Beach County Park Facebook page.

If there is not enough oxygen in the water, the fish cannot 'breathe'. The low level of dissolved oxygen in many cases is something natural”.

What species of fish is most affected?

Most of the dead fish are Gulf menhaden, also known as pogy or brevoortia. These small, oval-shaped fish travel in large schools in nearshore waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

They serve as a food source for dozens of animals, including turtles, sharks, birds and other fish, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is also why anglers like to use them as bait.

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