Shocking images of Florida’s Indian River Lagoon show hundreds of thousands of dead, rotting fish floating in polluted water as far as the eye can see.
The lagoon system includes the Indian River, Mosquito and Banana river lagoons that make up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway along eastern Florida. It's home to more than 3,000 species of plants and animals, and is the most biodiverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere, according to International Business Times.
Fisherman Mike Conner says, "The heartbreaking images can be seen for miles." He has been fishing the area since the 1970s. "All up and down the coast, it's the same story, and it could get worse before it gets better."
"Our oysters are dead, seagrasses are dead," said Conner. "It [will be] hard to recover. You never fully recover."
Mother Nature seems to be wreaking havoc on the area as El Nino recently soaked Florida during its usual “dry season.”
Parts of central Florida have been hit with triple the amount of rain they usually do for January. As a result, the rainwater seeped its way into creeks via urbanized neighborhoods, creating runoff mixed with pollutants and fertilizer, according to CNN.
El Nino is also causing winter temperatures to soar, letting a toxic algae bloom and brown tide use up the water's oxygen.
Spokesman for the St. John River Water Management District, Ed Garland, said officials can’t conclude the effects from the brown tide on the seagrass because the water is too murky. Over half the seagrass reportedly died off in 2011, and there are still spoiled areas from that die-off.
Although the images are disturbing, state environmental officials said it happens more often than thought.
"Fish kills happen all the time," said Kelly Richmond of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. "This is a massive kill, but there are fish kills all over the state."
"We have had brown tide there before but nothing to this extent,” says Richmond.