Animals & Wildlife Magazine

This Summer’s Gulf ‘Dead Zone’ Could Be Bigger Than Connecticut

By Garry Rogers @Garry_Rogers

GR:  Farms are a far greater source of toxic wastes than urban areas. Farming does it all. First, it obliterates natural habitats, second, it increases soil erosion, and third, it invites pesticide poisons that kill insects and the wildlife that depend on them. Join the Union of Concerned Scientists’ call on Congress to reject the Trump administration’s unacceptable budget cuts at the USDA, and instead vote to fully fund proven programs that keep our water clean, improve farmers’ livelihoods and help hungry families.

This Summer’s Gulf ‘Dead Zone’ Could Be Bigger Than Connecticut
“Summer is almost here, and you know what that means. Sun, sand and … a watery wasteland devoid of all life? Yep, this is the time each year when a team of federal and university scientists predicts the size of the so-called dead zone that will develop in the Gulf of Mexico later in the summer. We’re waiting for that official prediction, but based on federal nitrate flux data and Midwest weather patterns this spring, it seems likely that it will be bigger than usual.

“That means a swath of marine habitat considerably larger than the state of Connecticut could be lifeless by summer’s end—a haunting prospect for coastal ecosystems, fisheries, and the men and women who earn their livelihoods from them. And the Trump administration’s budget proposal and general antagonism toward science and environmental protection are likely to make the problem worse in the future.

“Marine and coastal dead zones are the result of a phenomenon called hypoxia—a state of low dissolved oxygen that occurs when excess pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, accumulate in bodies of water. These nutrients feed blooms of algae that, when they die and decompose, deplete the oxygen in the surrounding water. Hypoxia is a silent killer, suffocating organisms that can’t escape the low-oxygen zone quickly enough, and causing others to flee.

“As we wrote a year ago when the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted an “average” (roughly Connecticut-sized) Gulf dead zone, even average is not the same as normal. Nitrogen and phosphorus can come from many sources, but the largest are due to human activity, including sewage discharges and fertilizers from farm fields running off into rivers and streams.

“In 2010, researchers at the University of Illinois showed that the problem of runoff from industrialized, corn-and-soybean intensive agriculture, with its system of underground drainage channels, dwarfs the impact of cities and other nutrient sources in the Midwest. Essentially, each year the Mississippi River and its many tributaries meandering through the Corn Belt quietly funnel a vast amount of agricultural pollution into the Gulf.” –Karen Perry Stillerman (More: This Summer’s Gulf ‘Dead Zone’ Could Be Bigger Than Connecticut.)


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