UPDATE: April 2, 2015
In December, we reported on this mystery fish kill in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. At the time, NYC Parks had conducted some preliminary testing, but results were not yet released. We promised to follow-up later in the spring. Here’s what we found.
According to NYC Parks, no additional fish kills have been witnessed in Flushing Meadows. Pathology tests conducted on several fish were inconclusive; nothing notable was found in water samples from Willow Lake.
Marit Larson, Director of Wetlands and Riparian Restoration for NYC Parks, told NYER:
“To better understand what caused these incidents, we have consulted extensively with NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation and Brooklyn College. We have no clear answer at this time, but we believe that low dissolved oxygen may have played a factor.
Fish kills can have multiple causes and contributing factors. We will have one water quality sensor collecting data on dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature in both Meadow and Willow Lakes over a portion of the summer, which we hope will give us some idea of the dissolved oxygen dynamics and stressor that could impact fish. In the mean time, we are continuing to review any land management practices around the Lake that may be impacting conditions.”
Something is killing fish in the waters of Willow Lake, but no one, including the Parks Department, seems to know exactly what it might be.
Since late October, park-goers and park officials have reported dozens of dead fish lining the shores of the 45-acre lake located in the southern portion of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The Daily News reported seeing large numbers as recently as November 21, on both on the western edge of the lake near the walking bridge, and by the bird blind on the eastern side.
Spokeswoman for the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Meghan Lalor told NYER that “many dead fish of several species were observed, including gizzard shad, American eels, white perch, and carp.”
Officials have been looking into this issue with several agencies, as well as limnologists (who study inland waters like lakes and streams) and fisheries experts. Lalor noted that fish kills have happened before at Willow Lake, and suggested that the cause may be “due to a number of different factors, from low dissolved oxygen to temperature to algae.”
“Evaluation is ongoing, hopefully we will have a definite answer within a few weeks,” said Lalor.
Originally created in 1939 for the New York World’s Fair, Willow Lake is a manmade waterbody flanked by the 106-acre Willow Lake Preserve. In recent years, the Parks Department has attempted to revitalize the area by transforming it into a wildlife preserve with hiking trails.
Part of this plan includes removing 14 acres of invasive species using herbicidal chemicals—some park goers suspect this may be the cause behind the recent aquatic casualties.
“I spotted a sign that they were spraying pesticide so I stayed away from there,” local resident Stan Zompakos told the Daily News. “The week after that I went to the bird blind and saw a lot of fish that had died.”
Zompakos photographed signs in the area that indicated the herbicide Accord XRT II had been applied. This Material Data Safety Sheet from Dow Chemical describes the chemical as “Highly toxic to fish and/or other aquatic organisms.”
When asked about the herbicide application, Lalor responded: “We applied the herbicide by hand to targeted upland areas and specific invasive species. There was a 40-foot buffer between where that was applied and the lake – as you can see at the site the phragmites surrounding the lake remain.”
She added, “Although it is unlikely that this would have caused the fish kills, we are looking at all possible causes.”
Willow Lake is not open for recreational fishing.
NYER plans to follow up with the Parks Department once results are in. Stay tuned.