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Sep 22, 2008 5:35 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Massive fish kill reported at Mill Pond

Sep 22, 2008 5:35 PM

A massive fish kill in Water Mill’s Mill Pond was discovered on Monday by scientists who have been monitoring algae blooms in the freshwater pond over the past several years.

Dr. Chris Gobler, an associate professor at Stony Brook University, said he received several phone calls Monday morning from residents who live near the pond, reporting that thousands of fish of at least six different species were floating dead in the pond.

Dr. Gobler and his laboratory group have been monitoring the levels of blue-green algae blooms in the pond since 2005. He said that last week the group recorded one of the largest blooms ever observed in the pond. At least six different species, including white perch, catfish, eels and bass, have been collected by Stony Brook students, who will continue to monitor the health of the pond this week.

Dr. Gobler said that the group has been attempting to determine the cause of the fish kill by sampling oxygen levels and performing other tests. In a normal algae bloom, the algae consume much of the oxygen in the water, asphyxiating the fish. Such a situation occurred in Lake Agawam in Southampton Village in 2006, when a large number of white perch were found dead in the lake after an algae bloom. White perch are known to be very sensitive to oxygen deprivation.

“It wasn’t as extensive as this,” Dr. Gobler said, comparing the Lake Agawam fish kill to Monday’s in Mill Pond. “There are more fish and a greater diversity of fish than we saw there.”

Adding to the mystery of the current die-off, Dr. Gobler said that he was puzzled after his research group took tests at dawn Tuesday that indicated that oxygen levels in the lake were near normal. He said that oxygen tests are best taken at dawn, when they tend to be the lowest, thanks to the absence of photosynthesis at night.

“The levels we were measuring at dawn this morning were above 4 milligrams per liter,” he said on Tuesday. “Generally, that’s not that problematic for fish. Yet there were fish that were still expiring in the pond.

“Typically, a big algal bloom consumes all the oxygen, the fish die off, and that’s the end of the story,” he added. “This bloom hasn’t died. It doesn’t fit the model that we expected. There are still fish expiring and showing signs of intoxication—swimming erratically, going belly up and swimming again.”

He added that some species of blue-green algae his group has found in Mill Pond has contained toxins that could be killing the fish. He said that at least two species of cyanobacteria, called microcystis and anabaena, are known to produce toxins and have been found by his group in Mill Pond in the past.

Dr. Gobler added that he initially believed the fish kill might have been in just one portion of the pond, but students who were on the water Tuesday found dead fish from end to end.

The research group put a water quality probe that measures oxygen content every minute in the pond on Tuesday and will be able to retrieve the probe and analyze its data log in the upcoming days. The students are also preserving fish that they found in the pond and will perform necropsies on them later this week.

The algae in Mill Pond has been problematic enough in the past to prompt a neighborhood group and the Peconic Land Trust to install four solar stirrers, known as SolarBees, in the pond. The SolarBees were designed to keep the water from becoming stagnant enough to permit the algae to take hold.

“We’ve been measuring before and after they were installed in 2007, and there were never any fish kills like this before they were installed,” said Dr. Gobler. “Algal blooms are human-related,” he said, adding that “high levels of nutrients are leading to these algal blooms and by reducing those we may stem the occurrence of these blooms.”

The Southampton Town Trustees are responsible for overseeing the health of Mill Pond. Trustee President Jon Semlear said Tuesday that Dr. Gobler is keeping the trustees apprised of the status of his investigation. “We’re lucky to have him. He’s a wealth of knowledge and expertise,” said Mr. Semlear.

Trustee Fred Havemeyer is also planning to have EcoTest Laboratories do an exhaustive test of the water quality in the pond.

Though the Trustees do not stock Mill Pond with fish because there isn’t enough running water to provide a good habitat for trout, Mr. Semlear said that carp, catfish, largemouth bass, pickerel and bluegills, as well as white perch and eels, are all found naturally in the pond.

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There was a slew of dead fish down at the Shinnecock Canal.
By Dr Spock (36), Hampton Bays on Sep 23, 08 8:19 PM
There are some really green perfectly manicured lawns on Mill Pond. According to Wikipedia, Algal blooms are the result of an excess of nutrients, particularly phosphorus. Phosphorus is a chemical element. Phosphorus compounds are also widely used in explosives, nerve agents, friction matches, fireworks, pesticides, toothpaste and detergents. We didn’t get a whole lot of rain this season and fertilizers and pesticides were probably put out on and near Mill Pond. When we finally did get rain, ...more
By NorthSea (10), Southampton on Sep 24, 08 11:12 AM
My mother had a house on Millpond for 15+ years. My wife is at the house now. She says there are no dead fish on the east edge and she has not seen any this week. She got a call from the paper asking and she said she did not see any.

The article does mention is might be limited to one area, but then hedges that it might not be limited to one area.

For what it is worth, without this article and phone call, on the east edge of pond we would not have known about this issue.
By doug8007 (1), new york on Sep 24, 08 11:31 AM
The fish kill has been through the entire pond, on all shores. However, the Southampton Town Trustees have been cleaning up the fish on a daily basis, so its not suprising that some residents have been unaware.

I've lived on and around Mill Pond for decades and there has never been a fish kill. People who have installed the Solar Bees reported the devices were mixing up the bottom and putting more nutrients into the pond making the algae worse. The company promised clear water and more ...more
By JL-ST (3), Southampton on Sep 24, 08 1:35 PM
By JL-ST (3), Southampton on Sep 24, 08 1:37 PM

I went around the whole pond. There is dead fish everywhere.. There is also birds eating them all day... It's not limited to one area, that I'm 100% sure of..
By NorthSea (10), Southampton on Sep 24, 08 1:43 PM
Hey JL-ST - Wonder how much money those solar bees cost us... The water is much greener after they put them in... This is horrible....
By NorthSea (10), Southampton on Sep 24, 08 1:47 PM
I live on the west side of the pond and my shoreline is littered with dead fish
By ljr403 (1), water mill on Sep 25, 08 4:23 PM
It hasn't rained for more than two weeks. Seems to me, whatever caused this was not something washed into the pond from outside, but instead it was something internal...
By JL-ST (3), Southampton on Sep 25, 08 8:57 PM
Maybe if some of you people stopped using so much chemicals in your silly yards this wouldnt happen....
By blackbeard (2), Speonk on Sep 29, 08 7:01 PM
Sounds like the marina was up to It again ! Fish do not like sanded bottom paint runoff from a 34 foot fishing boat.
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Feb 2, 09 7:10 PM