Did you know that there is an area in the Gulf of Mexico roughly the size of Connecticut that cannot support marine life? This area is called a dead zone.
Dead zones are areas in the ocean with low levels of oxygen concentration that causes marine life to either flee the area or die of suffocation. Dead zones are caused by an increase in nutrient pollution, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, in the water. Excess nutrients promote algal blooms, which are not consumed by marine life and, therefore, die, sink, and decompose. This process of decomposition utilizes oxygen, resulting in low levels of oxygen in the water leading to areas in the ocean which can no longer support marine life. Nutrient pollution can be caused by industrialized agriculture, inadequate sewage treatment plants, and stormwater runoff.
Scientists have forecasted the hypoxic zone, or the ‘dead zone’, in the Gulf of Mexico for the year 2016. Per the release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the Gulf of Mexico dead zone in 2016 will cover 5,898 square miles, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. The Gulf of Mexico hypoxia forecast used a four-model forecast, with predictions ranging from 5,204 to 6,823 square miles. The confirmed size of the 2016 dead zone will be released in early August.
The Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone was first documented in 1972. In 2015, the dead zone was forecasted to be 5,483 square miles but measured 6,474 square miles. You may think that the 2016 forecast seems on par with what was forecasted and measured in 2015. However, you must take into consideration that in 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pledged to reduce the size of the dead zone to 1,950 square miles by 2015. By comparison, the forecast of the dead zone for 2016 is three times the goal set by the EPA in 2001. KWA and our partners at the Mississippi River Collaborative are advocating for policy,including setting numeric standards for nutrient pollution, both at the state and federal levels, that will help reduce excess nutrients in the waters and, consequently, will reduce the growth of these dead zones.