It was the most shocking scene I have ever seen in the wild.
A shoreline on the outer edge of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge was lined with dead flounder. Hundreds of thousands of them.
From a distance it looked like someone had thrown white trash bags along the pristine shorelines of Sabine Lake but it was the bellies of flounder me and my friend (fishing guide) Capt. Skip James were seeing.
That was Tropical Storm Frances in 1998 and it killed millions of flounder and other fish on the Upper Coast of Texas and southwestern Louisiana.
So, how does a storm kill fish?
Saline water standing in the marsh for days at a time can stagnate the water, depleting it of oxygen.
After witnessing the flounder and shooting a few photos, James and I saw a school of shrimp about 1/4 mile from that shore in Sabine Lake that was at least 1/2 mile long by 100 yards wide. They were on the surface gasping for air and no doubt died soon after our encounter.
Today as Tropical Storm Cindy hit the Southwestern Louisiana and extreme western Texas coast I drove out of to examine things along the Highway 82 corridor.
The water was still over the entire beach but it was obvious the waves pushed over the road last night. Along this stretch the water did not get into the marsh system but reports from eastern Louisiana and Mississippi show a storm surge that did penetrate area along the Mississippi River Delta.
The things to look for in the aftermath of any tropical system are as follows:
*Turtle strandings: Sea turtles are often injured, disillusioned and stranded after tropical storms. You can help by observing beaches, marshes and other waterways near the Gulf more closely and reporting any stranded turtles to wildlife officials.
*Marine Mammal Strandings: Although less frequent than turtle strandings, dolphins and manatees in particular can also get stranded. Again, make sure and contact the correct officials.
*Fish Kills: Fish kills happen throughout summer due to oxygen depletion in the water but storm kills happen in a much bigger scale. Some argue that these are natural and to an extent they are correct.
However, we have altered the ecosystem tremendously, building deep, straight canals that bring saline water deeper into formerly intermediate and even fresh marsh and the pollution that is spread from roadways (think gasoline, diesel and engine oil) along with other chemicals make things worse.
We will return to the Louisiana coastline in the morning as waters recede to monitor a long stretch of beach for sea turtles.
That stretch for some reason always has dead turtles or turtle pieces. I have always suspected illegal activity to be the cause but there is no doubt a fair number of green and Kemp’s Ridley turtles in the area.
Hopefully none got stranded but if they did, we will be glad to get them connected with a rehab center.
Use the contact information below if you come across any stranded turtles or marine mammals during what looks to be a busy tropical year.
Chester Moore, Jr.
- Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline
- Texas Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Contact
361-949-8173 ext. 226
- Louisiana Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
- Louisiana Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Contact
- Mississippi Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Hotline
888-806-1674 or 228-369-4796
- Mississippi Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Contact
- Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
- Alabama Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Hotline
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
- Wildlife Alert Hotline
- Florida Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Contact