A recent study, conducted by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and Florida International University, sampled 93 bonefish in South Florida, finding seven pharmaceutical contaminants per fish on average. The three-year study raises pressing questions about the state’s water quality, how this pharmaceutical pollution may be impacting Florida’s recreational fisheries, its economic impacts, and remediation. The fact remains, however, “these findings are truly alarming,” said Dr. Jennifer Rehage, the lead researcher.
Among the pharmaceutical contaminants found in these bonefish were antidepressants, pain relievers, blood pressure meds, prostate treatments, and antibiotics. The researchers conducted this work by taking blood samples from bonefish and later analyzing that blood for 104 different pharmaceuticals. In one of the bonefish sampled, researchers found 16 different pharmaceutical contaminants, including eight antidepressants ranging from 10-300 times higher than the comparative levels found in humans.
“Coastal fisheries face increasing threats associated with human-based contaminants,” said Jim McDuffie, BTT President and CEO. “Pharmaceuticals are an often overlooked dimension of water quality and their presence in South Florida bonefish is cause for concern. These contaminants pose a significant threat to the flats fishery, an important part of Florida’s recreational saltwater fishery, which has an annual economic impact of $9.2 billion and directly supports 88,500 jobs.”
In Florida and nationally, wastewater treatment plants do not remove pharmaceuticals and there are no regulations characterizing pharmaceuticals as harmful contaminants. However, research in the United States and throughout the world has demonstrated pharmaceuticals affecting all aspects of the life of fish. Further work will be needed to determine the real effects for bonefish and other important fish in Florida’s waters.
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That’s just what BTT plans to do. During a live-streamed presentation in Tallahassee, BTT’s Director of Science and Conservation, Dr. Aaron Adams, noted that the next step in research is to determine how and if these pharmaceutical contaminants are impacting a bonefish’s ability to successfully spawn and their migratory patterns in the Keys.
Additionally, these findings highlight the many ways humans impact waterways and marine ecosystems. For example, these pharmaceutical contaminants often enter waterways directly from household sewage, and wastewater treatment plants that cannot remove the contaminants.
“These troubling findings underscore the urgent need for Florida to expand and modernize wastewater treatment facilities and sewage infrastructure statewide,” said McDuffie. “Governor DeSantis’s leadership and historic funding for water quality improvements, along with legislative support and funding, have set us on the right path. Now we must expedite those efforts, increase investment over the long term, and pursue innovative solutions. We must accelerate septic to sewer conversion, and in those places where sewage is not available, require the use of advanced septic technology. The health of our citizens and the coastal resources that support Florida’s economy depend on it.”