GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The Gulf of Mexico is usually a thriving ecosystem, home to a wide variety of organisms.
However, there is one area where most living creatures can’t survive. This is known as the Dead Zone, and scientists recently found it’s larger than normal this year.
The Mississippi Watershed covers over 40% of the continental United States. Millions of people live in this region, with pollution being swept down the Mississippi River and dumped into the Gulf of Mexico.
Excess nutrients from human-caused runoff can stimulate uncontrollable algae bloom in the Gulf. The algae eventually die and oxygen-consuming bacteria decay the algae. The bacteria continue to take oxygen away from the water, resulting in little to no oxygen sufficient to support most marine life. Many fish swim to other areas to survive, but more stationary animals like starfish and crabs are left to die, a literal dead zone.
The Gulf of Mexico dead zone forms every summer. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration originally thought it would be smaller than average in 2021, a recent survey found the zone has grown to a size larger than the state of Connecticut, about 6,334 square miles or four million acres of underwater habitat unlivable.
There are many things scientists are trying to do to reduce the size of the dead zone in the future. One was recently initiated, the NOAA Runoff Risk forecast, which helps farmers apply fertilizer at optimum times to ensure it stays in the fields, not in the Gulf.
If the amount of fertilizer and urban runoff is not reduced, the dead zone will continue to wreak havoc and threaten some of the most productive fisheries in the world.