Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Death at Sea

Tarpon, one of the species killed during Florida's cold snap

For several days this month, it was uncommonly cold in Florida. The national news featured interviews with citrus growers who voiced concern about hard freezes and the implications for their crops, but little was reported about an even more serious calamity taking place offshore—thousands of fish were dying of the cold.

During brief cold snaps, fish that can't survive water temperatures below 50 degrees usually head for deeper water, where temperatures are more moderate. This time, though, the frigid weather persisted for longer than usual and a strong northerly wind pushed cold water into the deeper channels and canals, preventing susceptible fish from escaping the cold.

In an article in the Miami Herald, Jerry Ault, professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School, called the situation "[a]mazingly scary. It's hard to get a grip on the number of mortalities," he said, "but the effects will be felt for years to come."

It's frightening to contemplate how much havoc a relatively brief and minor change in temperature can wreak on the environment. It's chastening to recall that while fish all around me were expiring, I was complaining because friends and family who visited during the cold spell couldn't enjoy the normal pleasures of Florida—swimming, sunning, and dining al fresco. And ultimately, it's sobering to realize how little control we humans have over the forces of nature.


  1. Imagine humans as a force of nature, along with bugs and hurricanes. Maybe we contributed to the weather (as some contend). In any case, I think much can be gained when we recognize that we are one of many elements of the natural world. Our intelligence (if it exists) has not moved us beyond nature. We think we are unique in the animal kingdom because we wear clothes and talk. But are we really?

  2. Amen to both of you. Bonnie