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St. Pete bringing in ecologist to investigate sick pelicans

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

In an effort to expedite and enhance current testing and investigation into a troubling discovery of sick birds near local waterways, the city of St. Petersburg is calling in an independent ecologist to assist.

Scientists with Arcadis U.S., based in Melbourne, Florida, have joined with St. Petersburg Water Resources and investigative crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) to gather clues into what is causing the Pelicans’ sickness.

“We want to have experts evaluating this,” said John Palenchar, interim Water Resources Director, “Independently tasked to find out — as soon as possible — what’s causing this.”

St. Petersburg has been dealing with this situation since last week, when a fish-kill was reported on January 12, at a stormwater retention pond in the Riviera Bay area.

“RBLake #1” is a freshwater stormwater pond with many exotic tilapia, which are susceptible to low temperature and Dissolved Oxygen (DO) issues. Adequate dissolved oxygen is necessary for good water quality, as well as a necessary element to all forms of life. Natural stream purification processes require adequate oxygen levels in order to provide for aerobic life forms. As dissolved oxygen levels in water drop below 5.0 mg/l, aquatic life is put under stress. The lower the concentration, the greater the stress. Oxygen levels that remain below 1-2 mg/l for a few hours can result in large fish kills.

Preliminary data from that pond showed readings at approximately 0.32 mg/l, with 4,900 pounds of fish removed from Riviera Bay Lake.

FWCC have taken water and algae samples to test for quality and is also testing the birds that died to determine cause of death.

The second location is Coffee Pot Bayou, about 3 miles south of Riviera Bay. Scientists are investigating the probability that the affected birds initially fed on fish at RB Lake#1 and flew to Coffee Pot Bayou, which is near a substantial pelican habitat.

All testing — by the FWCC, City of St. Petersburg, and now Arcadis — will be coordinated and used to formulate a plan to keep the birds safe, as well as to alert residents and recreational water users to any potential problems. Further details and results will be released when they become available.

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