Monday, July 30, 2007

Aquatic life dying at Park Memorial Gardens


Nick Ferrara usually enjoys a quick visit to the pond in Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens most mornings before going to work or church, watching the koi fish lazily cruise through the water and the turtles sunning themselves on the rocks bordering the pond.
When he showed up at the pond yesterday morning, however, what he saw shocked him. Dead fish floated along the edge of the shore, others gasped for air near the mouth of a small creek, although no fresh water flowed from it into the pond.

“I was the only one down here and when I saw the dead fish, I went ballistic,” Ferrara told the Daily Sound.
Park officials who arrived on the scene about an hour after Ferrara called said a power failure Saturday night caused the pumps that circulate the pondwater to stop working.
“We responded right away, because we do care,” Parks Manager Santos Escobar said. “...I think it’s just a one-time thing with the power going out.”
Escobar said without the three large recirculation pumps that push water to the top of the man-made creek, not enough oxygen entered the water, causing several fish to die. After restarting the pumps and aerator shortly after arriving, workers pulled four dead koi fish and two bass from the pond, he said.
Ferrara said when he arrived at the park at around 8:45 a.m., he noticed the water had dropped about 2 inches from normal levels, and a pungent aroma rose from the surface.
“It smelled atrocious this morning,” he said.
As fresh water entered the pond, the smell dissipated somewhat, and the water level started to rise. Water quality tests at the pond will take place today, Escobar said, and his crew will continue to skim the water, remove floating raw material and clean the filters twice a day.
Hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen in the water, is often the result of a presence of excess nutrients, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website, which causes a growth of algae, blocking sunlight and decreasing dissolved oxygen levels.
Escobar said due to warm weather over the past few weeks, algae blooms have muddied the water at the pond, similar to what is happening at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. His crew has been adding Pond Saver, a biological enzyme that breaks down organic matter, to the pond for about three weeks.
“We’re monitoring it,” Escobar said. “We’ve been doing it on a daily basis.”
He said a combination of poor water quality and losing the circulation pumps overnight is the likely cause of the fish deaths. While algae blooms are a common occurrence during summer months, Escobar said, he’s never seen a similar die-off in his 15 years on the job.
Ferrara said he noticed the pond water getting darker and smellier over the past three weeks, and criticized the city for not doing anything about it sooner.
“It’s just uncalled for,” Ferrara said. “If they knew something was wrong with this water that could kill the fish and turtles, they should have moved them.”
Ferrara said he is also worried that some of the turtles may have died, and due to their heavy shells, dropped to the bottom of the murky pond. Park officials said about 45 to 50 large fish inhabit the pond, and the number of turtles is in the hundreds.
Organic matter from the fish, turtles and birds increases the amount of muck on the bottom of the pond, escalating the algae bloom, Escobar said. He is planning a turtle roundup in the next few weeks with the help of Turtle Dreams, a local nonprofit organization that he said will find good homes for the relocated turtles.
Escobar said in addition to organic matter from the animals, food that people toss into the pond also adversely affects the ecosystem. Park workers feed the turtles and fish twice a day, he said, asking the public to follow the rules posted on signs around the park and refrain from throwing food into the pond.
“These folks, they don’t realize what they are doing when they are feeding all these animals,” Escobar said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We pass by the pond often and had likewise been distressed at the obvious change in water quality and absence of fish for several weeks. It was not an overnight problem at all, and apparent even to amateurs.

In fact, the changes were so obvious that we'd called Parks & Rec a couple of weeks ago to report something was wrong. We were told it was news to them but that they'd investigate, though it was likely just a seasonal thing.

Well, it was more than that and it's now too late. Many of the familiar old-timers are dead. Their sparkling gold and flashing white and ebony have been devoured by the turtles that dominate the fish pond, or else recycled in a variation of the 'goldfish down the toilet' scenario.

Whether it was a natural phenomenon or something human-caused - through malice, negligence, or stupidity - most of the fish so many people regularly visited are gone. It mustn't happen again. Once tests establish what caused the die-off, the pond needs more and better management in the future.

Like the mountain views and streets safe for walking, that pond is one of Santa Barbara's quiet treasures that requires proactive protection if it is to survive. So in addition to the steelheads and commercial fisheries and pet whales, fish of the garden pond variety deserve care and attention, too.

If the council can allocate $12,000 to mark a hypothetical high water mark, maybe a little more to keep the resident koi alive and well is in order, too.