Harmful Algae Bloom Causes Fish Kill in Indian Creek/Hampton Flats in the City of Hampton – May impact lower James and York Rivers, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 15, 2020
Media Contact: Robert Parker, public information officer, Western Region, Robert.Parker@vdh.virginia.gov

Harmful Algae Bloom Causes Fish Kill in Indian Creek/Hampton Flats in the City of Hampton
— May impact lower James and York Rivers, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean —

(Richmond, Va.) – An ongoing harmful algae bloom of Alexandrium monilatum is believed to have caused a fish kill in Indian Creek in the City of Hampton. The City of Hampton and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality investigated the fish kill that was reported over the weekend of September 12 and 13.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recommends avoiding contact with all discolored water (including bioluminescent water), water that is foul-smelling, or water with dead or dying animals. When in doubt, stay out.  If contact with the water cannot be avoided, VDH recommends promptly rinsing exposed skin with clean, fresh water.

This past weekend there were reports of an oil sheen in the creek, however, no visual evidence of an oil or petroleum spill was observed.  Based on the intensity of the bloom, evident in the results of sampling in the creek on September 10 by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and made available on September 13 to VDH, experts believe the fish kill was related to the depletion of dissolved oxygen by bacteria decomposing the dying algae. This algal species also is known to have the potential to produce a toxin which can kill large numbers of fish in the vicinity of the bloom. This toxin is not well understood, but it does not typically affect humans.

Alexandrium monilatum is an annual marine bloom species in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as its tributaries of the James and York Rivers, and to a lesser extent in the Rappahannock River. The bloom is bioluminescent at night, producing a blue glow when the water is disturbed and during the day, the algae bloom may appear as a “red” or “brown tide.”  The bloom is likely to continue and may appear elsewhere in the bay and along the Atlantic oceanfront until environmental conditions no longer support the bloom’s proliferation. Small waterbodies with narrow confluences with the bay and tributary rivers, such as in Indian Creek, may be more susceptible to fish kill events than those with wider confluences because the tidal movement of water is less restricted.

To review the locations where A. monilatum has been observed and confirmed this summer, view the online Google Harmful Algal Bloom map, which is an interactive tool displaying observations and results. (If embedding the map on a site, please include the map legend posted on the linked site.) To report a suspected bloom, please use the online Harmful Algae Bloom report form.

While A. monilatum produces a toxin that may kill fish, shellfish and crustaceans, the toxin itself is not typically harmful to humans. VDH is not aware of any human-health related issues associated with the consumption of fish, shellfish or crustaceans harvested from waterbodies experiencing a bloom of A. monilatum. Edible muscle tissues should be properly cleaned. The internal organs of bony fish and crustaceans should be discarded, and the flesh should be cooked to proper temperature.

To report health concerns you suspect are related to contact with the bloom, please call the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 888-238-6154.

The Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force – comprised of VDH, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and the Old Dominion Phytoplankton lab -will continue to monitor water quality in Virginia’s bays, rivers and tributaries. To learn more about algae blooms, view sample results, or to report a suspected bloom, please visit www.SwimHealthyVa.com.