Residents and environmental health crews spent hours cleaning thousands of dead fish out of a brackish body of water in West Bay near the Lakeshore Villas condo development earlier this past week.
The rotting Tilapia corpses gathered around the sides of the pond and were first noticed over the weekend of 11-12 August by those who live along the water north of Batabano Road.
‘There was a sea of dead fish,’ said Eileen Davidson, who noticed the dead Tilapia rising to the surface and gasping for air on Sunday, 12 August.
Eileen and her husband George have lived next to the pond for five years, and said they remember a large number of fish dying there at least once before. But both said there were far fewer fish during the last occurrence.
‘(Last time) maybe one hundred fish died all the way around, it was easy to pick up (the fish),’ Mrs. Davidson said, ‘this time it was, like, thousands.’
The dead fish appeared to be the cause of a foul smell wafting over the north end of the pond in the early part of the week.
The lake is owned by Rosemary Hawkins, who lives on the southern end of the water. She said she contacted the Department of Environmental Health and the Department of Environment about the dead fish over the weekend.
Since the body of water is privately-owned, Mrs. Hawkins said DEH officials told her they could not remove the Tilapia from the pond for her. However, Mrs. Hawkins said the department did provide bags for the clean up, and trucks to haul the fish away.
Mrs. Hawkins said her son Daniel, his father, and four other men did the clean up on their own using a small craft to go out into the water and herd the fish into trash bags.
‘It was a whole day’s work,’ Mrs Hawkins said. ‘I was told there was close to five thousand (dead Tilapia), and I believe that.’
Department of Environment officials said there was no evidence that there was any pollution of the lake.
Rather it’s believed that the Tilapia, which are prolific breeders, simply overpopulated the lake in which they have no natural predators. As the number of fish grew, the lake’s oxygen supply may have simply depleted too rapidly and caused the Tilapia to suffocate.
Also, environmental inspectors noted there was a major growth of algae along the bottom of the pond, which would add to the oxygen content during the day. But at night those plants would be sucking oxygen away from the fish.
It’s an event the DoE refers to as a fish kill and according to department director Gina Ebanks-Petrie it happens about once a year in the Cayman Islands, though perhaps not always in such great numbers.
‘We know that the problem (in the West Bay pond) is low oxygen,’ Ms Ebanks-Petrie said.
DoE crews tested a smaller pond across the street from Lakeshore Villas and found oxygen levels there were between 28 and 56 times higher than the pond in which the fish died.
Tilapia are not native aquatic life in the Cayman Islands and most species live in freshwater.
‘There are certain Tilapia that can withstand saltwater, but they’re not naturally occurring in our waters,’ Ms Ebanks-Petrie said. ‘The Tilapia that we have on the island have been brought in.’
Mrs. Hawkins said she had not placed the fish in the pond, and believes some had been swept into the water during the flooding caused by Hurricane Ivan.
A similar situation occurred in March 2005 in Templeton Pines Lake, another man-made pond in George Town.