Sewage dump may have caused death of sea birds

Storm water is likely to blame for the surge in bird deaths locally.

ST. PETERSBURG BEACH -- Birds are dying on a popular Bay area beach and environmental groups think the thousands of gallons of sewage dumped into the bay nearby have something to do with it.

On Aug. 8, after weeks of heavy rains, Gulfport dumped more than 300,000 gallons of sewage into Boca Ciega Bay. Four days later, the first dead black skimmer was found on the the beach. A few weeks later, Tropical Storm Hermine dumped even more rain on Pinellas County.

Then on Sept. 2, Gulfport dumped close to another 900,000 gallons of sewage. More than 45 birds have been found dead and some environmental activists worry it could be because of the raw sewage in the water.

Dozens of dead birds found along the shore here have Eckerd College looking for answers.

“This is really disturbing,” said Beth Forys, professor of environmental science and biology at Eckerd.

All of the dead birds are young black skimmers. Forys said that is unusual because last year they only saw one of the skimmers that age, fledges, die.

“Six percent of fledges have died so far in the state from this ailment,” said Forys.

Florida Shorebird Alliance volunteer Lorraine Margeson said she found one of the dead birds.

“I have never seen anything like that,” she said. Margeson believes the cause could be linked to the sewage that was dumped into Boca Ciega Bay.

“There’s only one thing that is different than other years, which is this massive amount of sewage material,” said Margeson.

Forys said she hasn’t heard of the sewage dump killing off any fish or other marine life, but that the sewage can carry bacteria like salmonella that a young bird like this isn’t able to handle.

“It’s really scary,” said Forys.

All of the birds have been taken to the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, where they will be tested to figure out what caused their death.

(© 2016 WTSP)


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