Koi Fish Dying in Pepperdine Pond

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Floating Koi Fish

Lacking sufficient oxygen, a number of koi fish in a Pepperdine University reservoir have died in recent days after surrounding vegetation was removed, according to an expert wildlife veterinarian who visited the site. 

“There were some dead fish floating and there were some fish at the surface of the water trying to get oxygen,” the veterinarian said.

Visitors first noticed the fish dying off after university workers began cutting down native vegetation last week around the pond where the koi fish live. They also observed the pond being drained and fish being left in shallow waters. 

The removal of surrounding plants has cut off a key source of oxygen to the fish, according to the veterinarian, and the fish will likely continue struggling for an oxygen source. The deaths could also lead to botulism if birds begin feeding on the fish carcasses en masse.

The reservoir is one of two located on campus grounds near Alumni Park on the southern part of campus near Malibu Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway. The koi are in the east reservoir closest to the school’s tennis courts. 

Pepperdine spokesperson Tiffany Wright said on Monday that university personnel had moved more than 60 fish they had found in the reservoir after receiving calls from concerned residents. 

“We’ve moved them to the west reservoir,” Wright said. “…That’s what we’re doing for the meantime. They’re really not much else I know at this point. I know the maintenance is going to take a few more weeks.”

Phil Phillips, Pepperdine’s vice president for administration, chief administrative officer, and executive VP chief of staff, was overseeing the process, according to Wright. 

Wright said that the reservoirs, which look like ponds, required maintenance in order to preserve the liners that hold the water in the reservoir. 

“We needed to clear that because we have liners that keep in the water in,” Wright said. “If we didn’t have the liners the water would seep through. Vegetation can puncture the liners. We can’t have that because we reuse that water for irrigation. 

There are no current plans to conduct maintenance on the west reservoir, Wright said. 

Due to the reservoir’s large size, it’s unclear how many koi fish are in it, and removal would likely require a large net, according to the expert. Many turtles have also been spotted in the pond.

The koi fish are not native to California and were likely introduced into the pond by an outside source.

Because the fish are not native to the reservoirs, Wright said the university is considering moving the rest of the fish but has not contacted outside organizations. 

Officials at the nearby California Wildlife Center in Calabasas said the center only handles native California wildlife and would not be able to take on the koi species.

Wright said the university does not know where the fish came from. 

“I wish we knew more about how they got there, but we have no idea,” she said. “We can only go off the assumption someone planted them in there. Technically we’re not responsible for the ones that are in there. But we did move the ones we found into the other reservoir.”

Check back for more information as this story develops.