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Byron Shire
April 24, 2021

Fish kill in Byron Bay

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On the morning of Tuesday November 18 I was dismayed to see a large number of dead fish along the tide line of Main Beach. I am wondering if anyone knows what caused the fish kill.

Not so long ago I saw the tide deposit a slimy green mat all along Belongil Beach, and I have heard a few people saying they have seen no dolphins for a while. Could it be that the Belongil estuary health has been compromised, and some serious and independent assessments need to be done before any go-ahead of any proposal which could increase toxicity and damage marine and human life?

Suzie Deyris, Byron Bay


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  1. Suzie
    That is very sad to read about the fish that have been killed. Did you take any photos or a sample of the mat of the slimy green mat?

    This sounds like it was an algal bloom. Quite possibly a toxic algae bloom. Has there been a recent rain event in the area, this can often cause a flush of nutrients into the river and then into the shallow beach areas. With the extra nutrients the algae may bloom.

    Because of the extra use of fertilisers in more recent years these events are becoming more common. Good land management is usually the best approach to control this.

    In areas with low flow, such as some lakes, ponds, dams, and estuaries where nutrients may build up it can be possible to control these algae blooms in quite a natural way by adding some algae food (Silica) that is especially dosed with all the micro-nutrients that a better type of algae called a diatom can use. When the diatoms grow, they use the nutrients that the other toxic algae would have used, so this stops the toxic algae bloom from be as bad, or even from happening at all. Then the diatoms get eaten by the little animals in the water called zooplankton. All pretty natural and no poisons involved, which is often the way we try and control toxic algae. This Silica additive is called Nualgi. Really clever stuff.

    I hope the fish recover and the dolphins come back very soon!

  2. I have seen some terrible stuff washed down the Brunswick river over the last year . When we had the last big rain event I was amazed to see pieces of cars washed up on the beach near Brunswick heads along with tonnes of timber, corrugated iron sheeting, plastic chemical bottles and even a mattress. People upstream must be real grubs and not really care about the health of the river and ocean but I bet they whinge loudly when they come to the beach and see it full of rubbish.

    • Thanks for your informative reply Simon, and others too, -I had a not very good phone on me, the photos barely show anything except Gulls eating fish. I did not think of taking a photo directly above the fish. – Their shape was like small Tailor . About 12 cm.
      It seems urgent that we sort out the problem of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and Estuary/ catchment care before any further development happens in Byron.
      I am hearing increasing stories of people with Motor Neurone disease, and thyroid disease and hear that these diseases are linked to toxic water and soil, – sorry to segue but I noticed you are a doctor, and hope that when you have a minute you might be so kind as to let me know if this is true.-?

  3. There is also another factor in all this. There is an outfall at Main/Clarke’s beach, which has been accumulating stormwater run off, pollution and nutrients in a temporary pond. It also grows bluegreen algae. Such a swirling cocktail is the result of the incomplete stormwater/flooding infrastructure in town. It is similar to what also happens in closed estuaries that receive pollution, stormwater and nutrients, as Simon says above. Land management also includes water infrastructure management.

    If the pond is breached and opens to the sea, or if a tide comes up high enough, the waters mix with the sea and cause a sudden crash in oxygen. If there are fish in the mix, they can die. Does anyone know the exact sequence of events? Was the pond breached? It was a small cocktail and may be causing a small hazard.

    Byron has known bigger cocktails. The town was infamous for fish kills in the 1990s. Infrastructure work was started, including the sewage treatment plant. The early stages were completed but the rest have not been. There is more to do. The original plan, in 2004, was for this to be done before any development was approved for W Byron. Whatever the fate of the W Byron planning decision, we have a lot of catching up to do.

  4. I approached Cape Byron Marine Park Authority, fisheries officers at DPI and Dr. Danny Bucher, a fisheries biologist at Southern Cross University on the morning of the 19th after we had seen a large number (perhaps 50-100) dead toadfish, pufferfish and boxfish along the tideline at Tallows Beach. From my preliminary research and knowledge of similar issues, it appeared that the species of fish and their proximity to one another could be related to discard from trawlers as these species are not targeted species and cannot be consumed by humans. There seems to have been a number of similar incidents with similar species around the country.

    In speaking with Dr. Danny Bucher, he believed that the incident was most likely a result of a storm event as these species are particularly susceptible to extreme weather events and he had witnessed a similar incident recently on the beach at Lennox Head. The slimy green mat you’re referring to could be sea foam which is a type of foam created by the agitation of seawater, particularly when it contains higher concentrations of dissolved organic matter (including proteins, lignins, and lipids) derived from sources such as the offshore breakdown of algal blooms. I’m not sure if this would cause fish deaths on such a large scale (if at all) unless it was a severe event, in which case I’m sure Marine Parks or fisheries would have had some knowledge.

    There is a huge issue with discard and bycatch though and if this fish kill was a result of trawler discard it raises the issue once again of the sustainability of seafood and the devastating impacts that it is having on marine life, which needs to be addressed.


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