Fish kills on Outer Banks prompt outrage, but the solution will endanger wild horses

Outer Banks visitor Grant McLoughlin of Pennsylvania posted photos of the dead fish on Friday, noting sea birds were making a feast of the kill.
Outer Banks visitor Grant McLoughlin of Pennsylvania posted photos of the dead fish on Friday, noting sea birds were making a feast of the kill. Facebook screenshot

A barrier on the Outer Banks that was strengthened to keep wild horses out of traffic is having an unexpected consequence: killing fish by the dozens at high tide.

Grim photos of dead trout dangling from the fence were shared hundreds of times on social media over the weekend, prompting criticism and outrage.

“They should take that down!!” Colleen Mills posted on Facebook.

“That has to be changed,” Fred Gillotte wrote.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund announced Monday it will make immediate changes to the fence as a result of the fish kill, even though the temporarily fix will endanger the island’s beloved wild horses.

“While it did successfully keep the horses from coming into Corolla, there was an unintended consequence that requires us to remove the wire mesh that extends into the ocean,” the fund explained on Facebook.

“We did not expect the wire to become a gill net and trap fish, and we are working hard to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.”

The nonprofit said it intends to work with Marine Fisheries to find a solution.

Mesh was attached to the much-older cable fence earlier this month, after members of the wild herd began escaping safe zones and wandering into neighborhoods in Corolla.

It appeared to work well, but then higher than normal tides and coastal flooding occurred late last week, trapping the rotting fish for days in sight of passing tourists.

Once the mesh is removed, “it’s highly likely that the horses will come onto the paved road in Corolla at night and during the early morning hours,” the Corolla Wild Horse Fund warned Monday.

“Our staff and volunteers, along with help from the awesome deputies with the Currituck County Sheriff’s Department, will be on hand to safely move the horses back to the 4x4 in the mornings should they escape,” the fund posted.

Traffic accidents have long been a chief cause of death among Outer Banks wild herds, as tourism and development advance on the barrier islands. Horses have been hit and killed by cars on roads and beaches as recently as last year.

A cable fence was erected across the beach in Corolla years ago to keep the herd from straying into neighborhoods, but it fell into disrepair, fund officials said. The mesh was added only as a ”temporary fix” until a better solution could be found, officials said.

“We will continue to work on finding a solution that will keep the horses safe and not negatively impact wildlife or humans,” horse fund officials said on Facebook.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.