FIU study finds pharmaceutical contaminants in bonefish

The bonefish tested had an average of seven pharmaceuticals in its system.

A Florida International University (FIU) study found human pharmaceutical contamination in 93 South Florida bonefish and some of the animal’s prey species.

The three-year research project, conducted by FIU’s Coastal Fisheries Research Lab and commissioned by the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, analyzed 93 bonefish from Biscayne Bay to west of Key West for 104 commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals. Every fish contained at least one drug. The results were shared during a news conference Wednesday.

In total, 58 different drugs were detected. On average, each fish contained seven different pharmaceuticals, according to Jennifer Rehage, the study’s lead researcher. The most commonly found drugs were blood pressure medications, antidepressants, antibiotics and pain relievers. About 56% of fish had a third of the human treatment amount of the drug in their system, enough to give them similar effects as their human counterparts.

The contamination likely comes from the lack of regulation on pharmaceutical disposal and the absence of a process to remove drugs from wastewater that can leak into the ocean, Rehage said.

Since only low dosages were found, the risk may be very small to people. However, no research has been conducted on the impact of lifetime exposure to small doses of many pharmaceuticals, Rehage said.

The contamination could be harmful to Florida’s fisheries and commercial fishing industries, said Aaron Adams, director of science and conservation with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. The drug exposure can impact fish breeding, feeding and other activities, possibly decreasing the fish population.

Waterway improvement has been a focus of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature over the past few years. The state allocated $2 billion over the last three years to waterway improvement through programs and legislation, including the Clean Waterways Act and the establishment of the Wastewater Grant program. 

Rep. Bobby Payne said during the press conference that the Legislature and the Governor are committed to continuing waterway improvement amid the new information

“People come to Florida to live, play outdoors and spend time fishing and swimming in the water,” he said.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood


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