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Byron Shire
April 11, 2021

Did iron bacteria cause fish kill in Belongil Creek?

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Some of the fish that washed up on the banks of Belongil Creek last week. Photo Reid Waters

Following last week’s story on a large fish kill and pollution in the Belongil Creek, Byron Council staff have told The Echo the NSW EPA test results received  on Monday ‘confirm that iron bacteria was present in the estuary water and a contributor to the discolouration’.

A DPI spokesperson told The Echo last week that DPI Fisheries staff attended Belongil Creek on Friday last week and ‘observed 100s – 1000s of fish along the waters’ edge of the creek from the railway bridge to the creek mouth.’

Staff added that, ‘Nothing indicates pollution from uncontained development works. The result received from the EPA lab test confirmed a previous report and Council staff sampling that it was a natural event’.

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  1. I’ve Googled iron bacteria and am still at a loss to understand this and how that contributed to fish deaths. Hopefully the EPA and Council have a more thorough report which they will make available.

    • Ferric iron as a chemical is non toxic, however this doesn’t means to say that it does not exert a pathological response. Our experience has proved that in many aquaculture systems, the presence of iron at concentrations above 0.1mg/l, the iron will damage the gills of the fish.

    • Peter; according to wikipedia, “Iron-oxidizing bacteria colonize the transition zone where de-oxygenated water from an anaerobic environment flows into an aerobic environment. Groundwater containing dissolved organic material may be de-oxygenated by microorganisms feeding on that dissolved organic material.”
      Therefore; if iron bacteria is sufficiently present to discolour the water, then it stands to reason that it also de-oxygenated the water enough to make it tough for fish to survive, evidenced by the mass kill.
      Does that help you to understand the NSW EPA’s findings ?

  2. Are we talking about acid sulphate soil issues? Belongil creek catchment has serious acid sulphate soil problems exacerbated by cleaning and deepening drains. Lowering the water table (very dry season?) willl also release acid sulphate drainage. Once the soil has become acid, it can;t be stabilised.


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