Fish kill investigated on Merritt Island; commissioner asks for lagoon care funding

Mullet, catfish carcasses litter Sykes Creek

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – Mullet, catfish and other fish carcasses dotted the surface of northern Sykes Creek on Tuesday, reminiscent of Indian River Lagoon's worst-known fish kill two years ago. 

Reports to a state fish kill hotline this week included about 50 puffer fish, red drum, sheepshead, mullet, catfish and flounder in the Sykes Creek area, near Ulumay Sanctuary, News 6 partner Florida Today reported. 

Activist Dr. Duane De Freese said brown tide algae that reduce oxygen, combined with current rainfall, could turn the spotty fish kill into a massive one.

Last month, Brevard County compared current dissolved oxygen levels in the lagoon to this time two years ago.

Given the similarities, leaders sounded the alarm for another potential large-scale fish kill.

"We expect a possible difficult season ahead," De Freese said.

The executive director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program fears Tuesday's discovery in Sykes Creek could be just the beginning.

Brevard County commissioner John Tobia called it a shame.

Tobia will ask fellow commissioners Tuesday night to reallocate $9 million previously approved for county tourism projects, to now go to the lagoon.

New state law allows the county to care for the lagoon through tourism tax dollars.

"I just want to take one more opportunity for my fellow commissioners to prioritize the health and safety of our lagoon as opposed to these projects," Tobia said.

Lagoon activist groups are expected at the commission meeting and vote.

"Our hope is that it stays small, but our expectation is that this could get worse," De Freese said.

Tobia said if his motion to reallocate the funds for tourism tax projects is approved, the $9 million will go toward muck removal.

About the Authors:

James joined News 6 in March 2016 as the Brevard County Reporter. His arrival was the realization of a three-year effort to return to the state where his career began. James is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.