Drowning Fish in NYC

For the past few weeks, the Hudson River has become a notable site for thousands of dead fish.

What’s That Smell?

While walking by the riverside in early July, I noticed an incredibly pungent, rotting stench in the air. At first, I tried to ignore it and go about my day because I was convinced it was just the “common river smell.” However, no matter my efforts, the smell was far too sharp and after visiting the riverside daily, I knew I had to investigate where it was coming from. I stood along the edge and was able to spot a fish. While exciting at first because it isn’t so common to see a fish in the city, I was immediately swept back by shock and grief: the fish was nearly lifeless, spinning in circles and struggling to survive. I, then, realized there was a huge line of dead fish alongside the riverside’s edge. Despite the high death count, most New Yorkers were oblivious to the ongoing incidents, either ignoring it or disregarding it as “some kind of oil spill.” 

Why Are They Dying?

Photo Taken By: Christopher Rodriguez – 95th Street Riverside

After doing some personal research, I came to discover that, within several NYC rivers, fish have succumbed to suffocation. If you’re wondering why, the deaths can be attributed to the intense Summer heat and an increase in pollution.

High-temperature days are known to limit oxygen in river water but a rise in pollution such as bacteria also heavily contributes to anoxia, an absence of oxygen. 

Where Is The Bacteria Coming From?

Photographed by Christopher Rodriguez – 95th Street Riverside

A lot of the city’s sewer water is dumped into the river and organizations like Riverkeeper have publicly spoken on the topic. Riverkeeper is a non-profit environmental organization with a mission of watching and studying the Hudson River. According to a NYPost article, they say “the general fragility of local waterways is also contributing to the phenomenon.” This explains how all of the fish in NYC rivers suffocated to death in the early months of June. 

There have been many reports explaining the cause of the matter, but so far none involve what actions one can take in order to prevent this matter from reoccurring. Toxic waste is often dumped into our rivers and natural cleansers have decreased so dramatically over time that excess bacteria is producing a more dramatic and deadly outcome. As of right now, though, the population is most heavily affecting menhaden – coastal fish with a large population in the Hudson River. 

Our Impact

This isn’t the first time fish have been known to suffocate but 2020 has produced a far more notable die-off. According to Dr. George Jackman, an ecologist of Riverkeeper, the causes of the suffocating fish can be best identified as “the sun, the heat, the sewage, and the lack of rain or synergistically working together.” These deaths are proof of the extreme effect we’ve had on our environment. Climate change and pollution are gigantic contributors to our dying neighboring ecosystems and it’s clear it will continue to have major consequences in our near future. As a whole, it’s important to ensure a safe and healthy home for all organisms, not just humans.

Illustrated by Christopher Rodriguez

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