A “dead zone,” which is an area of low oxygen that kills fish and marine life, appears every year in the Gulf of Mexico and is measured by scientists. This year, researchers recorded the largest dead zone, measuring the size of New Jersey, NOAA announced Wednesday.
The dead zone, located off the coast of Louisiana, measures about 8,185 square miles. The size of the area is the biggest since scientists began mapping the location in 1985.
The deadzone has been fueled by agriculture and wastewater. Nutrient pollution from agriculture, due to the use of fertilizers in the Midwest, and developed land runoff in the Mississippi River, has negatively impacted the Gulf of Mexico.
Scientists from Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium collected data to find out the size of the dead zone aboard the R/V Pelican from July 24 to July 31.
“We expected one of the largest zones ever recorded because the Mississippi River discharge levels, and the May data indicated a high delivery of nutrients during this critical month which stimulates the mid-summer dead zone,” Nancy Rabalais, a research professor at LSU, said in a statement.
The LSU and LUMC emphasized that the entire area was not mapped because of insufficient days on the ship, meaning the dead zone is larger. Researchers said there was more hypoxia to the west, but ran out of time to map it.
Negative Impacts Of The Dead Zone
The nutrients that pour from the river lead to a massive growth of algae which then die and decompose. That process uses up the oxygen needed to support fish and marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The low oxygen, also called hypoxia, can lead to the loss of fish habitat, force fish to migrate to other areas to stay alive and can also decrease reproductive capabilities in fish species.
The low oxygen levels can lower the amount of shrimp caught, which is bad news for fishermen. Hypoxia can also slow shrimp growth, which can lead to a decline of large shrimp. There has already been evidence of dead zones impacting the shrimp industry. A NOAA-funded study by Duke University published this year found the price of small shrimp decreased while the cost of large shrimp jumped. The…