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What’s killing tilapia in this St. Petersburg lake?

A neighbor reported a fish kill at Walter Fuller Park.
Dead tilapia float in Jungle Lake at Walter Fuller Park in St. Petersburg.
Dead tilapia float in Jungle Lake at Walter Fuller Park in St. Petersburg. [ ZACHARY T. SAMPSON | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 16, 2020|Updated Oct. 16, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Fish are dying in Jungle Lake.

Tilapia, leached of color, have floated this week along the southeast bank in Walter Fuller Park. Ed Carlson, head of the nearby Jungle Terrace Civic Association, said he first spotted the fish kill Oct. 13.

“The lake needs to be restored to its original pristine condition,” he said. “It’s a horrible mess.”

The dead fish have collected at a culvert, roughly across the street from the city’s Northwest Water Reclamation Facility.

“Preliminary evidence suggests that fish entered an area of the lake with low dissolved oxygen probably caused by rotting vegetation,” wrote Ben Kirby, a spokesman for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, in an e-mail.

The lake is overgrown with water lettuce and hydrilla, according to city officials, and a consultant treated it on Sept. 29 and Oct. 2. As the greenery died, Kirby said, it decomposed, and wind blew it toward the corner of the lake. “We believe this wind-induced concentration of decomposing vegetation depleted the dissolved oxygen in this area. Fish that swam into this corner of the lake likely suffocated due to lack of oxygen.”

City staffers have taken water samples and are collecting the carcasses, Kirby said. On one visit they noticed gasping tilapia. The city plans to ask its consultant to install aerators or do anything else it can to improve oxygen levels.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received a report to its Fish Kill Hotline on Oct. 13 about Jungle Lake, according to a spokeswoman. Rep. Jennifer Webb, a Gulfport Democrat, said Carlson notified her and she visited. The water connects to Boca Ciega Bay in her district.

Public works employees were clearing out the dead fish when she arrived, Webb said. She asked them to give her one. The dead tilapia now sits in her freezer, for future biological sampling.

“All good science is validated by multiple people so that there’s no questions,” Webb said.

More dead fish have continued to surface, according to Carlson. The latest overgrowth in the lake, he said, followed past wastewater issues. He pointed to a spill in 2016 as well as an incident in 2018, when a contractor mistakenly pumped water toward the lake.

“The lake became solid, massive weeds,” Carlson said, adding he heard back from local officials after Webb responded. “There was not one place where you could see the water.”

The city has sprayed the vegetation and attempted to keep up, he said, but it hasn’t been successful.

“We can only comment on the actual science, not one man’s speculation,” said Kirby, the mayor’s spokesman, in response to Carlson’s claims. “Further, the city responded to this neighbor’s concern the very same day he inquired about the lake.”

IF YOU SEE A FISH KILL: The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asks you to call its hotline at 1-800-636-0511 or make a report through its website.


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