The Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” – a region infested with algae that consumes most of the oxygen, deterring habitation by marine life – could be one of the largest on record, with much of the blame going to agriculture and flooding, the government said June 18.
The dead zone, located off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, could reach in size between 7,450 and 8,456 square miles this summer, researchers predicted. That is an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey.
The largest dead zone on record was 8,484 square miles in 2002.
Dead zones are caused by nutrient run-off, mainly from fertilizers used to grow crops, including corn grown to meet the country’s growing ethanol demand. The run-off stimulates an overgrowth of algae that consumes most of the life-giving oxygen supply in the water, driving away sea life.
Flooding in the Mississippi River following a wet spring in the Midwest “may result in a larger dead zone” than forecast, said scientists supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The high water volume flows, coupled with nearly triple the nitrogen concentrations in these rivers over the past 50 years from human activities, has led to a dramatic increase in the size of the dead zone,” Gene Turner, a lead forecast modeller from Louisiana State University, said in a release.
The growing dead zone means fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico must venture farther out to catch crabs, shrimp, crawfish and other seafood.