Brown tide likely cause of fish kill at Indian River Lagoon

Longtime fishing guide Alex Gorichky usually works hard to pull a prized 45 pound redfish out of the Indian River Lagoon, but he didn't have to this week.  

The reds could be seen floating dead on top of the water, along with thousands of other fish.  "It's mass devastation" said the local boat captain. "It's on a scale that I've not seen before."

Gorichky says he's spotted more than 20 different species of fish in the massive kill in the lagoon, running from Titusville down to Melbourne.  There were so many dead fish, you could barely see the water behind Lisa-Marie Sanders home in Snug Harbor.  "It's devastating," Sanders said. "More than all the fish you see is my worry it's going to take so long for the ecosystem to come back."

"It's tragic," added Cocoa Beach mayor Tim Tumulty.   The mayor says evidence of a massive fish kill started floating up along Cocoa Beach residents waterfront homes on Friday.  Local and state environmental agencies sampled the water, and collected dead fish for testing, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife commission says the results are not ready yet.

"So we are still in the early stages what caused it," asked Mayor Tumulty. "More importantly, what are we going to do about it?"

According to the Saint Johns Water Management District, one possible cause is brown tide, which the agency confirmed exists in the Indian River through water quality testing in January. The oxygen depleting algae, which also turned the river brown, can cause massive fish kills if concentrated enough.  "The brown tide can last a few weeks" said SJWMD communications director Ed Garland "or it may last for many months, like it did during the super bloom of 2011."  SCROLL DOWN TO HEAR FULL INTERVIEW WITH ED GARLAND OF SJWMD

If brown tide is confirmed, environmental agencies say the algae must simply run it's course. Environmentalists blame decades of storm water runoff, which they say carries algae feeding lawn fertilizers and pesticides into the river. In areas with antiquated storm runoff, like the Snug Harbor neighborhood in Cocoa Beach, the chemicals continue to spill directly into the lagoon.  "And there is no tide, there is no movement" says Gorichky. "it's a stagnant body of water, and everything that goes in, stays in."

Brevard County's Department of Natural Resources suspects brown tide caused the fish kill, and now it's organizing a clean up of the dead fish along waterfront county land.  County officials on Tuesday said they will meet with volunteers, county departments and other regulatory agencies on Wednesday morning to organize a coordinated clean-up effort of the Indian River Lagoon shoreline and other areas of the lagoon left littered with the dead fish. The majority of dead fish being reported is on privately owned property and marinas.

The county is planning to put out dumpsters at several waterfront parks where the dead fish collected can be disposed. Locations and other details will be finalized at the planning meeting, which is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. in the County Manager's Office at the Brevard County Government Center in Viera.

"We're looking for volunteers and working with regulatory agencies to see if they'll help too," said Assistant County Manager Venetta Valdengo. She expects dumpsters to be in place before the end of the day Wednesday.

Wednesday's meeting will include representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, St. Johns River Waterway Management, Brevard County Sheriff's Office and Brevard County Parks and Recreation, Solid Waste, Public Works and Natural Resources.