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Council hears concerns about Dunes fish kill

By Staff | Jan 22, 2009

Vultures can be good or bad, but that all depends upon your point of view, of course.

Arguments on both sides of that debate were heard by Sanibel City Council members when a homeowner in the vicinity of The Dunes Golf Club addressed his concerns about a recent fish kill during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Roger Blouin told the Council that this most recent fish kill was the third that had happened on the grounds of The Dunes Golf Club in the past year and a half.

“The water supports an incredible array of fish and wildlife,” said Blouin. “Alligators, fish like snook, tarpon, blue crab, and mullet and tilapia by the thousands. We’ve probably lost most of them.”

Blouin went on to paint a vivid picture of fish floating on the surface of the lake, picked clean by the vultures that arrived to partake of a suddenly free and liberal buffet.

“They were on the screens, perched on my roof,” said Blouin of the birds. “I hosed everything down several times.”

“It was scary,” said Mayor Mick Denham, who said he played a round of golf at The Dunes Golf Club on Sunday, and therefore witnessed the hundreds of vultures in the area with his own eyes.

“At the tee near the offending lake, we had to drive away the vultures before we could tee off,” said Denham, who went on to express his displeasure with The Dunes’ handling of the situation.

“As member and a citizen, it is shameful that this was allowed to happen at Dunes yet again,” said Denham, adding that he was so annoyed by the

situation, that he approached management at the Dunes Golf Club. “They

allowed the fish to stay much too long. Dunes should have immediately cleaned the fish up, then vultures wouldn’t have come. It was horrific.”

Paul Andrews, President of the Sanibel Captiva Audubon Society, spoke to the Council on behalf of the vultures, “because they can’t speak for themselves,” he said.

“Vultures are very noble, social animals. Their Latin name means ‘golden cleanser,’ and they do clean up our messes,” Andrews explained. “So, don’t chase them away, because we may need them again some day.”

Denham speculated that The Dunes Golf Club’s slow compliance with voluntary fertilizer limitations may have been partly to blame for this – as well as past – large fish kills in Dunes lakes and ponds.

“James Evans [with the city’s Department of Natural Resources] carried out tests of water in that part of pond,” said Denham. “There was a very low oxygen level not sufficient to sustain fish. It may be because of over-fertilization of The Dunes.”

Blouin told the Council that there had been some effort on the part of Golf Club staff to address the situation as it occurred.

“They were attempting to clean up, and had pumps trying to aerate the water,” he said. “But what they didn’t get, the vultures did.”

City Manager Judie Zimomra reminded the Council that although they had entered into a voluntary agreement with the city’s three golf courses to cut back on fertilizer use, they were certainly free to impose legislation if their objectives were not being met.

“If they didn’t comply,” said Zimomra, “Council would take action. To date, The Dunes has allowed [city staff] on the property for consultation. But you can certainly consider legislation if we don’t see cooperation.”

Craig Colton, Dunes Golf Club Manager, told the Council that he and his staff were certainly taking the situation seriously, and that they were in fact in compliance with the objectives set forth in the city’s voluntary fertilizer agreement.

“We’ve reduced fertilizer use 47 percent in the first year, and more than 50 percent in the second year,” said Colton. “We’re working with the city to avoid this happening again.”

Colton went on to say that his staff, which first reported fish in distress on Sunday, Jan. 11, had been working diligently to clean the lake every day since then, and had installed aerators to help oxygenate the water for the surviving fish.

“But we didn’t get the boat into the water to get under the brush,” he admitted.

Later in the meeting, Rob Loflin, Ph.D., Director of the city’s Department of Natural Resources, told the Council that aerators were not the solution to the problems of low oxygen levels in The Dunes Golf Club’s lakes.

“Nutrients are being introduced both from the golf course and the homeowners,” said Loflin. “We’ve got two indicators of that – dead fish and hundreds of vultures.”

City staff will continue working with Dunes Golf Club management to create an action plan that will help to prevent such large-scale fish kills in the future.