Chris Sprowls talks water conservation following release of FIU bonefish study

'We will leave Florida’s future better than ever before.'

House Speaker Chris Sprowls signaled support for continuing legislative water conservation efforts during a news conference Thursday, a day after Florida International University announced study results which found drug contaminants in bonefish.

The study, 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.

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 drug levels used to treat humans in their system, enough to give them similar effects as their human counterparts.

Sprowls said he is committed to protecting Florida’s waterways, because Floridians like himself who use them have a connection with them that will never go away.

“One of the inheritances of being a Floridian is our waterways, its access to our fisheries, and the fact that we have a legacy to protect for our children,” Sprowls said. “In order to protect that legacy, it means we have to be forward thinking. It means we have to make significant investments to keep Florida what it is, to keep our waterways and our fisheries healthy.”

He said the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis already backed funding for waterway improvement in previous sessions, like the Clean Waterways Act passed in 2020. He said they will continue to support improving the waterways as new needs arise.

“One of the legacies of this term — one of the legacies of myself, President (Wilton) Simpson and Gov. DeSantis — will be that we will leave Florida’s future better than ever before,” he said.

The bonefish 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.

It is still unknown how the pharmaceuticals in fish impact people, added Aaron Adams, director of science and conservation with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. The study his group funded was the first of its kind in Florida. While most of the levels found in the fish are too small to impact people, no studies have been conducted on the long term impact of regularly eating fish with chemicals in their system, Adams said.

“Fish are kind of like the canary in the coal mine. So the next steps are to work as partners at the state university level to figure out the answers to those questions,” Adams 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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