Study reveals fish in Florida waters contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs

Findings blamed on wastewater treatment plants

A recently published three-year study out of Florida International University discovered pharmaceuticals present in bonefish living off the South Florida coast.

MIAMI – A recently published three-year study out of Florida International University discovered pharmaceuticals present in the blood and tissue of bonefish living off the South Florida coast.

Researchers at the university’s Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) said in February that not only did each of the 93 fish sampled contain drugs, but the fish averaged seven pharmaceuticals each, with at least one containing 17 different substances.

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Lead researcher Jennifer Rehage, an associate professor at the university’s Institute of Environment, said the pharmaceuticals are entering coastal fisheries through wastewater infrastructure.

“Pharmaceuticals are an invisible threat, unlike algal blooms or turbid waters. Yet these results tell us that they are a formidable threat to our fisheries, and highlight the pressing need to address our longstanding wastewater infrastructure issues,” Rehage said.

Examples of drugs found in the fish include blood pressure medications, antidepressants, prostate treatments, antibiotics and pain relievers, researchers said. It was noted that many of these drugs were also found in common bonefish prey, taken as indicative that the fishery where the bonefish were tested is not the only region affected by similar human-based drug contamination.

According to Nick Castillo, a Ph.D. student who participated in the study, the drugs could also be changing the behavior of the contaminated fish, making them easier prey and cutting their chances in the gene pool.

“So it could be making a fish more bold, they’ll take risks, they could get eaten by predators more frequently, it can affect their reproduction,” Castillo said.

Jim McDuffie, BTT president and CEO, said the study underscored an urgent need for Florida to improve its wastewater treatment facilities statewide.

“Pharmaceuticals are an often overlooked dimension of water quality and their presence in South Florida bonefish is cause for concern. These contaminants pose a significant threat to the flats fishery, an important part of Florida’s recreational saltwater fishery, which has an annual economic impact of $9.2 billion and directly supports over 88,500 jobs,” McDuffie said.

About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.