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Thousands Of Dead Fish A Stinky Reminder Of Sandy

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Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, a strange physical reminder of the storm has come to light: thousands of dead fish.

From member station WNYC, Ilya Marritz explains.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Our story begins on a commuter rail platform. After two weeks of traveling on a slow-poke substitute bus from his home in northern New Jersey to his job in Manhattan, Kevin Meyers was thrilled to see the train come back. He took his regular seat.

KEVIN MEYERS: I sit in the very last car, about two or three rows in, on the right hand side of the train as we head towards New York City.

MARRITZ: The feeling of doing something so ordinary was invigorating. With fresh eyes, Meyers surveyed the landscape for signs of Sandy. At first, there was nothing. Just train tracks plowing through a familiar sea of swamp grass.

MEYERS: But as we approached the New Jersey Turnpike, I noticed that there was in a ditch, alongside the train tracks, probably about a hundred or so of the exact same looking fish baking in the sun.

MARRITZ: I hopped a train to Newark to get a look at this crime scene for myself. The train's conductor knows all about the fish pile.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Between Secaucus and Newark, it's actually right under the turnpike.

MARRITZ: Oh, my God. I see them. That was a long thin triangle of hundreds of fish where these two rail lines were coming together. Is there more of this that I'm going to see?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just about it, I think.

MARRITZ: But it turns out, that's not it.

FRANCISCO ARTIGAS: There's thousands of them. There's thousands of fishes in these ditches and all over the place.

MARRITZ: Francisco Artigas is director of the Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute. He says when Sandy arrived seawater flooded the marshes. It reached five feet above the highest recorded tides, and lifted everything in its path, including fish.

ARTIGAS: When this surge retreated then, a lot of these animals were caught off guard in shallow water and weren't able to make it back.

MARRITZ: Artigas says the dead fish are almost all carp. They're bottom feeders, which is why they tend to get trapped. And as the puddles that Sandy left behind evaporate, more carp are dying.

ARTIGAS: Until today, there are some ponds and football fields where the fish are there. You know, eventually it will - you know, they have nowhere to go. It will dry up and then they will die.

MARRITZ: If Artigas doesn't sound especially sad, well, he says, carp are an invasive species. Massive carp death gives a better chance to native fish like striped bass and shad. Meanwhile, the fish pile doesn't seem to be decaying. If the weather doesn't warm up soon, this reminder of Sandy could be frozen in place for several months to come.

For NPR News, I'm Ilya Marritz in New York.

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