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Water quality a concern in Matlacha Pass as eels surface

Concerns are rising over the water quality of Matlacha Pass after cloudy-looking water was spotted, bringing eels and other sea life to the surface for air.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation believes the milky water is the result of bacteria and low dissolved oxygen.

“Eels not only live on the bottom, they often times live in the bottom. They actually create burrows,” said Dr. Greg Tolley, executive director of The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University.

But in this case, “Eels, the snook, the sheepshead, everything is coming to the top. Every little baitfish is coming to the top and starving for oxygen and trying to gulp air through their gills,” said Karl Deigert, treasurer of Lee County Rights of Nature.

Deigert also acts like a historian of sorts, documenting fish in Matlacha Pass.

“My own sustainability of owning a waterfront motel and doing boat tours out to the outer islands went to zero in 2018, and now we have this situation.”

Deigert’s not the only one who is concerned. So is neighbor Thomas Terrell.

“In just the last few weeks, this has seemed to gotten worse and worse,” Terrell said.

Those who keep eyes on our water believe the swim to the surface might be due to low dissolved oxygen.

“The water quality is very poor, there’s some suspended solids in the water, there’s macroalgae that’s coating the bottom that may be the culprit behind a lot of this,” said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

That means fish may need to find oxygen higher up in the water.

“Part of that is due to the season, hot water and not much wind in the last few days, and then part of it is just we have so many nutrients in the water,” Tolley said.

Tolley said if excess nutrients can be removed from the water, it could relieve some stress on our waterways and wildlife.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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