Fish kill in the Neuse River could worsen

Jul 19, 2016

Thousands of dead fish have washed up on the banks of the Neuse River, near Flanners Beach.  Scientists believe the fish kill could get worse before it gets better.  Jared Brumbaugh has more. 

Sunny and hot temperatures combined with large amounts of rainfall have caused a low oxygen zone to develop in the Neuse River estuary.  In a healthy system, saltwater flowing from the Pamlico Sound with freshwater from the Neuse.  But recent water quality monitoring shows an influx of heavy rain nearly three times the seasonal average has added a significant amount of freshwater to the estuary, causing saltwater to be trapped along the bottom. 

“It’s a little bit like oil and vinegar situation.”

Kenan Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City Dr. Hans Paerl.

“If you have enough algae growing in the surface water, and those algae sink into those salty bottom water, it will lead to a lot of consumption of oxygen. Because the bottom water can’t mix with the top unless you get a major storm. Ultimately the bottom water will run out of oxygen and that’s the situation we’re facing now.”

Dr. Paerl says the low oxygen zone in the Neuse River extends from New Bern to the entrance of Pamlico Sound.  Fish caught in these areas are susceptible to suffocation due to hypoxia. He adds it would take a significant rainfall event to reset the system.