A brown pelican rested its beak on the edge of Deb DelSole’s red kayak.
The St. Petersburg resident planned on a stress-free day of paddling in her favorite spot in Coffee Pot Bayou last weekend.
But instead of wading through thick mangroves and watching wildlife from her vessel, she helped to rescue distressed pelicans on a popular nesting island.
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Local wildlife rehabilitation centers rescued about 30 birds from this strange event that’s causing birds in the area to become sick or die at an alarming rate.
Some are questioning if the die-offs have to do with the nearly 200 million gallons of sewage dumped in the Tampa Bay area since August 2015. Yet officials with the city of St. Petersburg — and even one of the pelican rescuers — disagree.
The city’s water resources interim director John Palenchar told Bay News 9 that the water quality is being investigated.
“It is a mystery in some sense,” he said.
He linked drastic temperature changes that caused fish kills in a lake in the Riviera Bay neighborhood, just north of Coffee Pot Bayou, to be a possible cause.
Twenty-two brown pelicans had come from the lake in Riviera Bay neighborhood, according to Eddie Gayton of Seaside Seabird Sanctuary, and eight had came from Coffee Pot Bayou. Four were dead, 10 had died after being rescued and three birds had to be euthanized.
But the millions of gallons of dumped sewage aren’t totally off the hook. While it may not be related to these pelicans, some researchers link the increased sewage to be a feeding ground for red tide, which suffocates the water and kills marine life.
As the investigation continues, the city put up signs warning people not to swim, play or fish in the area, according to Bay News 9. The news station also reported that about 70 pelicans had been rescued from Coffee Pot Bayou in recent days, half of which died.
“The fish kill got cleaned up. We’re not seeing any more dead fish,” Palenchar told Bay News 9. “So, with the removal of that source or vector perhaps of the disease, the pelicans are now getting healthy again.”
Coincidentally, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Wednesday that rule changes with the Imperiled Species Management Plan are now in effect.
This renders 23 species to be listed as threatened and 14 to keep their threatened status. Also, 15 species are rid of their “imperiled” status because of conservation success, including the brown pelican.
Kris Porter, director of Owl’s Nest, told the Bradenton Herald Wednesday that their animal rescue had received seven of the pelicans that day, but one of them died. The birds were treated for red tide, her first indication, which includes a regiment of medication, vitamins and activated charcoal in their food.
But Porter said she doesn’t think the massive sewage pollution had to do with it. Even with this die-off, she’s not worried about the brown pelican population.
“I think as rehabbers, we see more man-influenced problems that need to be addressed,” she said.
More deadly to the marine birds are what anglers leave behind, like hooks and lines. They bunch up around mangroves, get tangled around wings and even get lodged in pelicans’ necks.
Porter added that her pelicans are up and walking.