BRADENTON, Fla. — Nearly every morning Jeanette Edwards kayaks to an island near her home on the Palma Sola Bay.
She said what she’s finding lately has her concerned.
“It’s very upsetting for me,” Edwards said, who mentioned she’s earned the nickname "Pelican Lady" for her fondness of the bird. “I think they are innocent and all they’re trying to do it just live out their lives."
The accountant-turned-part time bird rescuer and founder of Friends of the Pelicans said so far this year, she’s collected nearly two dozen dead shorebirds, ranging from pelicans to egrets and others, from a small mangrove area near the Palma Sola Causeway. Edwards said just this month she found four dead birds.
Edwards, who logs every find, said it’s worse now than it was during red tide. This year the birds are dying at an alarming rate compared to previous years, she said.
In 2016, Edwards noted finding just four dead birds the entire year. In 2017, that number increased to eight. The following year, during red tide, she found 11 dead birds. This year, she said she's found 21 dead birds already.
“I find it pretty shocking,” she said. “And there are four months left to go.”
Edwards wants to know what’s killing them.
According to Veronica Bargas, a necropsy technician with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, they’ve performed necropsies on three of the birds. Tissue samples have also been sent out for testing.
So far, just one has come back showing the bird died from salmonella poisoning.
Bargas told 10News salmonella is actually very common, especially in young birds.
It could be several more weeks before test results for the other two birds are available.
“As of now, we’re not particularly concerned about this,” Bargas told 10News on the phone. “Especially since they’re juvenile birds, it’d be different if it were many adult birds dying as well.”
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said it had been made aware of the situation but added the department would only become involved if it starts to pose a public health issue.
“If the dead shorebirds are found to be impacted by avian influenza or other arboviruses, the health department would be contacted,” an emailed statement read.
A no-swim advisory for the south end of the Palma Sola Causeway beach was posted as recently as mid-August after the health department found elevated levels of enterococci—a bacteria that can cause intestinal issues leading to vomiting and diarrhea—likely due to untreated stormwater runoff caused by heavy rainfall.
The advisory—the second for the beach this summer—has since been lifted.
“They need to find out what is killing these birds because whatever is killing these birds has to be harming the people too,” Edwards said.
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