Thursday, June 7, 2018

Gulf 'Dead Zone' Smaller This Year But Still Huge

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 12:45 PM

click to enlarge Scientists from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium collect water samples from the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Scientists from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium collect water samples from the Gulf of Mexico.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico will be "average" this year, scientists said Thursday, and while it's much smaller than last year's zone, it's still about the size of Connecticut.

Pollution from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers spills into the Gulf and promotes algae growth. Algae sucks oxygen from the water, making it uninhabitable for fish and other marine life.That hypoxic zone — or "dead zone" — flows west from the tip of Louisiana and hugs the coast.  

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA) predict the dead zone will be about 5,780 square miles this year, close to the 33-year average (since records began in 1985). It is much smaller than last year's zone, which covered a record-breaking 8,776 square miles.

“The Gulf’s recurring summer hypoxic zone continues to put important habitats and valuable fisheries at risk,” said Steve Thur, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. “Although there has been some progress in reducing nutrients, the overall levels remain high and continue to strain the region’s coastal economies.”

click to enlarge Last year's record-breaking dead zone was about the size of New Jersey. - NOAA
  • NOAA
  • Last year's record-breaking dead zone was about the size of New Jersey.

Tennessee contributes to the dead zone, sending pollution — from urban activities, farming, and other sources — down the Mississippi River. The river drains about 1.2 million miles of all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces. Renée Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, said the river drains about one-third of the nation, and the nation uses it as a "sewer."

"By the time it gets to Memphis, it's in pretty bad shape, because it's at the bottom of different sources of pollution that's come to us from as far away as Montana," Hoyos said.

Memphis now operates under a 2012 federal consent decree after a number of agencies alleged the city illegally allowed its sewer system to overflow into the river. In 2016, the city's system spilled millions of gallons of untreated wastewater into the Mississippi.

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