Upper Narragansett Bay and Greenwich Bay are on high alert because of low oxygen levels in the water that could result in a fish kill, according to state water quality officials and other environmental experts.
“We’re seeing some significant hypoxic events,” said Sue Kiernan, the deputy chief of the DEM’s water quality division. As for the potential for a second devastating fish kill, Kiernan added, “We’re definitely tracking conditions very closely because of our concerns for that.”
Hypoxia is the scientific term for low oxygen levels. Lawn fertilizer, pet waste and other suburban sources of nitrogen run-off cause abnormal plant growth in Narragansett Bay,which in turn starves fish and other marine life of the oxygen they need to survive. In 2003, hypoxia caused a massive fish kill in Greenwich Bay that killed more than a million of fish countless other sea life.
“Over the past several weeks we’ve been seeing widespread low oxygen events from the Seekonk and Providence rivers to the Quonset area,” said Heather Stoffel, who monitors these areas for the state through the URI graduate school of Oceanography.
While fish haven’t started dying yet, as happened in 2003, Save The Bay Baykeeper Tom Kutcher told me many dead crabs are being found around Prudence Island. Commercial fisherman from Greenwich Bay have told me they too have seen many dead blue crabs this summer. In fact, dead blue crabs are visible in the shallows of Greenwich Cove.
While state officials were reluctant to compare this year to 2003, saying they don’t have a full season’ worth of data yet, Kutcher, a coastal ecologist, said he has analyzed the data to date and the conditions “seem worse or at least equal” to 2003.
In 2003, the Ocean State made international news when a mass death of menhaden, a small bait fish, occurred in Greenwich Bay. This year, the conditions are similar to 2003 in the East Bay and upper Bay.
“The Bay is speaking to us,” Kutcher said. “Someone needs to ring an alarm bell.”