Tens of thousands of dead fish washed up on the Gulf coast of Texas over the weekend, covering the shoreline with rotting carcasses and leading local officials to warn visitors to keep away.
Waves from the Gulf of Mexico pushed in dead fish “by the thousands” on Friday in Brazoria county, which is more than 40 miles (64km) south of Houston, local officials said.
Low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water made it difficult for the fish to breathe, Texas parks and wildlife department officials said. The phenomenon – known as a “fish kill” – is common as temperatures rise in the summer, the state department said.
While no one has connected this specific incident to climate change, researchers have said such kills may become more prevalent as temperatures warm and oxygen levels in lakes across the United States and Europe drop.
Dissolved oxygen levels increase with photosynthesis, the process by which plants transform sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into oxygen. When there is less sunlight, photosynthesis slows and at night it stops. But plants and animals in the water continue to consume oxygen at the same rate, decreasing the concentration, Texas parks and wildlife officials said.
Gulf menhaden, which fishers commonly use for bait, was the species most affected in the kill, parks and wildlife officials said. That fact means there could be benefits to the mass fish death spotted in Brazoria county, National Public Radio reported.
Katie St Clair, the manager of the sea life facility Texas A&M University at Galveston, told NPR that gulf menhaden is a popular snack for sea animals, and “with this die-off of fish, there is a huge nutrient pulse into our environment”.
“It’s kind of a circle of life,” she added.
Quintana Beach has been mostly cleared of the dead fish save for some that machinery couldn’t remove, county officials said.