BOCA GRANDE, Fla. -- A local charter boat captain showed 4 In Your Corner reporters hundreds of dead fish along Boca Grande beach after finding dead manatees in the area as well.
Captain Chris Oneill videotaped those dead manatees Tuesday and posted the video to his Facebook page. The video has since been viewed more than a million times and drawn attention to the area's fish kills. "I haven't been able to fish for a week, since mid-last week, because fish started dying and we're not going to take people out here and subject them to these conditions because there are potential health concerns as well," Oneill said.
Oneill showed 4 In Your Corner the hundreds of dead fish that were crowding Boca Grande's coastline. Maggots were seen eating the rotting fish, which were emitting a strong odor. He counted more than 40 endangered Goliath groupers which washed up on the beach this week, ranging from 10 pounds to 400 pounds. "Black grouper, gag grouper, red grouper, trout, eel, puffer fish, everything you could imagine is right here in this weed line that's washed up the last couple days," he told us as he pointed out the rotting fish.
Guests were also frustrated by the fish kills. The beach was mostly empty, Wednesday, with the exception of a couple of visitors who were checking out the dead fish for themselves. "We've been hanging out at the pool because...look, there's no one hanging out at the beach. It's terrible," said one visitor. "We have another family vacation planned without kids in August, and we're not sure we're going to come. If there's red ride, we're definitely not coming."
The fish kills come as the National Weather Service issued beach hazards statements for red tide for coastal northern Lee County and coastal Sarasota County. Captain Oneill is not sure what is causing the red tide, but notes after Lake Okeechobee water releases, Southwest Florida's coasts regularly have fish kills. "I can't put my finger on what exactly the problem is, but I can certainly tell you any time they dump that lake, and the discharge comes out of the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, within a week we start seeing significant kills along our shorelines here in Southwest Florida," he said. "It's sad to see that so much death is happening. I've only been here 15 years, and year after year I see things like this. This is the worst I've seen, and I've yet to see anyone out here assessing the problem or trying to figure it out."
Despite the fish kills, Oneill has hope. "I think we can make a change as everyday citizens by getting our politicians involved and making sure they understand how important these issues are to us, not only as citizens but as business owners as well," he said.
The red tide beach hazard statement will stay in effect through Thursday.