Every summer a dead zone develops in the Gulf of Mexico. A dead zone is a place where water does not have significant oxygen for fish to live. As a result, all the marine life in dead zone does. The impact of dead zones extends beyond fish and reaches humans, as well. Dead zones are becoming a serious problem that is affecting our food and our environment.
Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), revealed that 2017 produced the biggest measured dead zone in history. Scientists have been studying and forecasting dead zones since the 1960s. This year’s finding reveals the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico covers 8,776 square miles, which is nearly the size of New Jersey.
Although dead zones have been around for decades, their impact is increasing. Dead zones are affecting the food supply around the globe, as marine life and fish consume toxic poisons developed in dead zones. These toxic poisons will eventually transfer to fish and human beings via phytoplankton. In a balanced ecosystem, phytoplankton is the foundation of many aquatic food webs. Phytoplankton is microscopic marine algae (plankton) that provide food for aquatic organisms such as fish, shrimp, snails, jellyfish, whales, and other sea creatures.
Many believe the culprits of the problem are farmers who do not use sustainable farming practices, while others feel the federal government is not forcing farmers to be more responsible in their farming operations.
The chemical runoff from these farms drains into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The dissolved nutrients from chemical runoffs allow algae to flourish. The algae’s decay strips the water of oxygen, resulting in a dead zone in which fish and other sea life cannot get oxygen and die. No fish that gets entangled in a dead zone will survive.
Irresponsible environmental practices play a role in how dead zones can affect the human food supply and marine life, as well. When herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, and human waste are dumped into the ocean, they affect humans and fish. These toxic substances create algae that consume oxygen that marine life needs to survive.
Scientists believe that the record-breaking dead zone of 2017 is due to the massive increase of heavy rainfall in the Midwest, which put large amounts of nutrients into the Gulf. The dead zone is not visible from the ocean surface. Scientists have to use equipment to check oxygen levels at the bottom of the ocean. Dead zones are having a detrimental effect on the shrimp industry in the Gulf Coast area. Some experts see dead zones as a silent environmental catastrophe that needs to be exposed to save the fish in the sea and ultimately the food supply of humans.
State and federal agencies need to take stronger action against the development and expansion of dead zones. They need to put more pressure and regulations on farmers to combat dead zone proliferation. Our fish, marine life, and food supply depend on their responsible actions.