1,000 Dead Fish on Cape Cod: When Will the Killer be Brought to Justice?

Cynthia Liebman

I was disheartened, but not surprised, to read news accounts of a massive fish kill earlier this week on Cape Cod.  Over 1,000 fish turned belly-up in a river that feeds into a bay along the south shore of Cape Cod.  The mystery here is not so much about what caused this devastation, but how quickly the fix will come. And why more people aren’t up in arms about the problem?

The culprit is well-known to most who live on the Cape – septic systems leach nitrogen through the sandy soil and into coastal rivers and bays. This, in turn, feeds runaway algae and plant growth that robs fish of oxygen and wreaks havoc on the ecosystem. The nitrogen puts valuable shellfish beds at risk, too. Scientific reports show the problem is growing. Year after year, the upper reaches of many bays along Cape Cod (including coastal rivers) are being overtaken by unsightly, smelly algae.

Memories of cleaner waters…

The algae-clogged waterways I have learned of from CLF members and scientific reports are a far cry from what I remember.  My family’s vacations to Cape Cod were among our best ever, and not just because of the mini-golf and plentiful ice cream.  We played in a salt pond for hours on a giant inflatable turtle. We learned to swim in the bays’ gentle waves. We dug for clams in the tidal flats, and explored rivers and creeks.

Do you have similar memories? Maybe you want to make sure the bays stay pristine, for your own children or grandchildren. That is one reason we at CLF are working hard to address this problem.

What is being done?

Right now, residents and town officials in the 15 towns on Cape Cod are making crucial decisions about how to deal with the nitrogen problem. Septic systems in many places will have to go, or be upgraded. Yes, this will be expensive. Some federal and state funds are available to help. By account of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, 43% of the Cape’s economy is driven by tourism, and shellfish beds bring in additional revenue.   What would be the price of losing the gorgeous blue water, clean sand, and healthy shellfish that so many of us have come to love?

Click here learn more about our Cape Cod advocacy. And weigh in!

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