Ogeechee mystery solved; fish kill questions persist - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Ogeechee mystery solved; fish kill questions persist

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STATESBORO, GA (WTOC) -

Most people who live on the Ogeechee have been here all their lives. They know the river's little quirks at least as well as they know their relatives' habits.

Lately, they're seeing something new – a white film along the river's banks. It was spotted again after the Ogeechee flooded early this month.

"It was a white chalky substance and covered the area where the water had been," said Jerry Newsome, who lives near Williams Landing. "It colored it white."

Folks along the river first spotted the residue about three years ago. Since then, they've spotted it over and over again.

"This now, when it's come up this time and gone down, it's left like a bathtub ring is the best you could say," said Lavon Newsome, Jerry's brother, who also lives near Williams Landing. "It's just a film left on the trees. I don't believe it's a healthy thing at all."

So what do you call this river invader? WTOC asked the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division's Alice Vick.

"Synedra ulna (Nitzsch) Ehrenberg," rolled off her tongue.

Synedra ulna (Nitzsch) Ehrenberg?!!!! It's a river monster! Run for the hills!

Not quite.

Vick describes it as "a non-toxic algae that's present in all of Georgia's water." She says it's native to Georgia and is in nearly every pond, puddle, river, lake and stream.

"Actually, it's the base of the ecosystem."

And with the Ogeechee at record low levels for the past three summers, this little algae has been running wild. When the river got especially low, it turned into a pond system, Vick explained. So the algae -- which usually floats down the river to the Atlantic Ocean -- got to sit a spell. It collected in little ponds replicated like mad. Then, the rains came.

"When the river came back up, that algae spilled out across everywhere the water went," Vick said.

But the algae couldn't live without water, and when the Ogeechee crept back into its banks, the algae clinging to branches, rocks and roots died. What's left along the Ogeechee now is an algae graveyard. No skeletons, just cell walls made of silica – the same stuff that's in glass. Under a microscope, these algae corpses look like little crystals.

That's one environmental mystery solved along the Ogeechee. But the bigger question remains. And that's the one that had river residents on alert to begin with -- the largest fish kill in Georgia history, when an estimated 33,000 fish died in May 2011. 

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