Piedmont workers cleaning up dead fish

Workers spent Monday morning wading through Piedmont Park’s Lake Clara Meer scooping up dead fish with nets — less than a week before Paul McCartney is set to perform at the park.

“This is a daunting task to take on as we prepare for that,” said Piedmont Park Conservancy Vice President Monica Thornton.

Countless fish were found belly-up in Lake Clara Meer Sunday morning after an algae bloom depleted the water of oxygen.

A few dozen workers from the City of Atlanta, Piedmont Park, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Piedmont’s lake management company were in the lake cleaning up on Monday beginning at 8 a.m., Thornton said. They will continue until 4 or 5 p.m. Monday and throughout the week.

“We’re still evaluating how many fish were actually killed in this algae bloom burst, so we anticipate that we will at least be seeing fish that have decomposed and risen to the top over the next couple of days,” Thornton said. “We’re scheduled right now to clean every day until this is done.”

Workers are scrambling to get the lake and the rest of the park cleaned up and ready for Saturday’s Paul McCartney concert at the park.

“Our staff that would normally be out there cutting the lawn and doing the extra maintenance of the park to get ready for the concert — that’s all being put on hold to get this clean-up done,” Thornton said. “We’ve never had this happen in the park so this is a unique situation that was nature-made, so we couldn’t anticipate it.”

Because dead fish float to the lake’s bottom before rising to the top, it’s hard to tell how many more will emerge over the next few days, Thornton said.

The fish removal process is “very manual,” Thornton said, and involves workers wading in the lake scooping up dead fish with nets.

“With the 90 degree weather, there is a smell coming from the lake with the fish being at the top,” Thornton said. “We are being told that as we take the fish out of the lake, the smell will dissipate — no more dead fish, no more smell.”

Thornton said the public is at no risk.

Massive fish deaths are a common occurrence in the Southeast, especially during the summer, explained fisheries biologist Chris Nelson of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The deaths occur as algae can quickly multiply, especially in hot, dry weather. If not controlled, the algae eventually dies and takes oxygen with it, he said.

Nelson, who does not oversee Lake Clara Meer, went to the lake Monday to help with the clean-up.

Removing the remaining living fish isn’t a viable option, Nelson explained.

“They’re already stressed to the point that they probably wouldn’t live,” he said. “Once you see it, it’s too late.”

Piedmont is in need of volunteers with waders, nets a nd rubber gloves to help clean up the lake’s edges, Thornton said. Volunteers can call the park or go to the conservacy offices at 400 Park Drive to help.

--Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this report.