We live right on the Caloosahatchee River where it drains into the Gulf of Mexico. There are canals in our neighborhood where people keep their large sea-faring boats. The canals aren’t especially deep and the neighborhood children love to swim in them.
As we are of the “free-range” parenting persuasion, there is not much that we expressly forbid our daughter from doing. But the one thing we have told her she absolutely cannot do is swim in the canals with the other children. These are tidal bodies of water and the undertow is real. But beyond that, there are a lot of animals underwater along the coasts that you do not want to mess with. Alligators. Sharks. They hang out in the shallow water to feed, and a small kid sloshing around is clearly going to be a target.
It is difficult to impress upon a child the dangers of being around the water in a place like Florida though. There is no shortage of daring people here who recreate in often dangerous waters. When we were driving through Big Cypress and the Everglades not long ago, it was not uncommon to see groups of men in camouflage dragging fishing kayaks out of the water, totally out in the middle of nowhere. Believe me, their children are not afraid of swimming in the canals.
And then there is this beast.
What can grow up to 10 feet long, weigh 200 pounds and is armored like a tank? The Amazonian river monster, the Arapaima.
You might have heard of it on the Discovery Channel show “River Monsters”.
So what does a monster fish that lives half a world away have to do with Florida? The Arapaima could actually be closer than you think.
Over the weekend, a woman walking through Cape Coral’s Jaycee Park came across an enormous dead fish that puzzled her.
She first noticed the fish saw floating in the water along the Caloosahatchee River, but it wasn’t until she snapped a photo of it with her phone and posted it to Facebook that someone was able to identify it.
“It was bigger than my 7 year old. I thought that is nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was kind of white with a pinkish tail.” said Leah Getts, from Cape Coral. “It had a huge kind of open bass looking kind of mouth. It didn’t look like anything I had heard of or seen before.”
That answer only brought more questions, like how a 5 and a half foot long amazon river predator ended up in the Caloosahatchee River.
John Cassani, an Ecologist for the Calusa Waterkeeper worries that the dead fish could mean there are more.
“The primary concern with Arapaima is that they would become established and reproduce naturally.” Cassani said.
He says as South Florida’s climate warms, the zones in which arapaima can live continues to creep north, despite an FWC risk study saying our waters are too cold to support them.
“This risk study done on Arapaima was done close to 10 years ago.” Cassani said.
This could potentially open the door for an aggressive, dangerous fish to wreak havoc on Florida’s Freshwater Ecosystems.
“Obviously a big aggressive predatory fish is popular amongst anglers. But the risk to the ecosystem far outweighs the recreational value of the species.”
I mean, come on, this is nuts.