According to government scientists from NOAA, the annual Gulf of Mexico "dead zone," an area of oxygen-depleted water off the coastlines of Louisiana and Texas that is detrimental to sea life, is larger-than-usual this summer.
This year's zone covers around 6,334 square miles, a little more than the state of Connecticut. Based on statistics from the last five years, the average Gulf dead zone is roughly 5,380 square miles.
Lack of Oxygen to Support Marine Life
When there isn't enough oxygen in the water to support marine life, a dead zone forms at the bottom of a body of water. It's also known as hypoxia, caused by nutrient runoff, primarily driven by over-fertilization of agricultural areas in the spring.
According to a report issued this summer by the Union of Concerned Scientists, pollution has caused an estimated $2.4 billion to harm fisheries and marine ecosystems per year since 1980.
A team of scientists from LSU and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium marine research facility in Cocodrie, Louisiana, concluded a weeklong study trip across the Gulf on Sunday, resulting in the most recent estimate.
Dead Zone Investigation
In a news release, Nancy Rabalais, a Louisiana State University researcher who has conducted the dead zone investigations for years, said, "The distribution of low dissolved oxygen was unique this summer. The region between the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River was smaller than the area west of the Atchafalaya, usually bigger. However, the region west of the Atchafalaya River was considerably bigger.
"The low oxygen conditions were extremely near to the shore," she explained, "with several observations revealing an almost total lack of oxygen."
This summer, the dead zone is almost three times bigger than the objective set by a task team of state and federal agencies in 2001.
Environmentalists have long chastised the task force, established in 1997 and managed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, for failing to meet its objective of limiting the dead zone's five-year average to 1,900 square miles.
Hypoxia Task Force
According to NOAA, the Hypoxia Task Force is speeding up progress in decreasing river pollution by encouraging collaboration among federal partners, states, farmers, and others. Officials noted several federally sponsored projects aimed at reducing fertilizer runoff and other pollution sources.
Mike Naig, Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture and the group's co-chairman stated in the statement that "each of the Hypoxia Task Force states is dedicated to exhibiting ongoing improvement toward the targets established in our state-level nutrient reduction programs."
"We know that improvements on the land lead to good changes in the water," he said, adding that "these investments help our local communities and our downstream neighbors."
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