AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Hundreds of dead fish washed up on the shores of Thurmond Lake.
Thursday morning, state and national officials launched an investigation to find the out what caused the mass fish-kill.
J. Strom Thurmond Lake visitors discovered a number of dead Blueback Herring fish along the shore and posted a status alerting others on social media.
“Do report it to some kind of an authority because fish don’t usually die in mass numbers,” Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus told WJBF NewsChannel 6.
This prompted the Savannah Riverkeeper and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin testing oxygen levels and checking other areas of Thurmond Lake for more dead fish.
“The amount of rain that we’ve had and the combinations of the flow of the water can really do some funny things… and kind of slosh that water around. I think that’s probably likely the result of what we are seeing here.” Bonitatibus said.
U.S. Army Corps Biologist inspected the fish for any signs of discoloration in their gills and believe up to 1,500 Blueback Herring were killed. They say that number is only a small fraction of the millions that live in Thurmond Lake.
“We just surveyed the lower third of the lake,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District Fisheries Biologist Jamie Sykes said. “What we were looking for, obviously other than fish morality, was we were assessing the water quality conditions.”
“According to our results [everything] looks pretty good today. So it’s doubtful that they strangled. Which is good,” Bonitatibus said.
Still, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Biologist says this is a rare occurrence since a dissolved oxygen system was installed in 2011. “We have not had any mortalities at all since then,” Sykes said. “Prior to the system we did have mortality here.”
This time of year the water is hot and decreased the amount of oxygen it can hold.
Blueback Herring thrive in water temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees. However, during the summer Thurmond Lake can reach temperatures of up to 85 degrees.
So, what is the cause of these dead fish?
“I would rather not speculate on that. These fish have plenty of habitat upstream. So I’m not sure why they are down here where conditions aren’t quiet as good.” Sykes said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the oxygen level tests came back normal.
For now they will need to monitor the Blueback Herring population and increased the amount of oxygen being released into the lake.