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Gulf Of Mexico And The Dead Zone

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It’s summertime and every year, millions of families venture out to beaches and lakes to enjoy the pleasurable warmth of sunshine and water fun. In the Gulf of Mexico, this is the prime season to create a hypoxic zone. The creation of red tide ruins not only vacation fun and relaxation but wreaks havoc upon the environment and economy of the fishing industry. The dead zone is known as having little to no oxygen levels and will cause the lower, bottom-dwelling sea life to become trapped in the regions and eventually die. This is a reaction of excessive nutrients, most commonly nitrogen, from excessive use of fertilizer and untreated sewage disposal. It trails off from the northern regions in rivers and lakes and excretes into oceans, especially the Gulf of Mexico. Some dead zones occur annually, others are year-round, and continue to increase their level of growth.

The Gulf of Mexico and the Dead Zone

The main culprit of creating a “Dead Zone”, or also known as a hypoxic area, is the unnecessary run-off of potent nutrients in fertilizers or over fertilizing crop areas with manure. This occurrence that ensues begins in the springtime to summer when farmlands initiate production for crop season. The main elements which are causing harm to the environment are nitrogen and phosphorus. What happens in the Gulf of Mexico, is the overabundance flows into nearby streams, lakes, or rivers. It is then carried from those streams and rivers- the main river is the Mississippi River- and into the northern Gulf of Mexico. When those elements saturate the water, it affects a phytoplankton which is “microscopic, plant-like organisms that are important for carbon cycling and also could influence clouds and climate” (Phytoplankton Bloom in the North Atlantic).

This creates a massive number of algae segments. After the creation, there is going to be decomposition. So, when the algae begin to die off and decompose, they also sink towards the depths of the ocean floor. This begins to also dissolve the oxygen levels within the area. Much of the marine wildlife is at risk during this time. They either escape the area or will become entrapped within the segment of the dead zone and begin to suffocate and die off. “The range of organismal responses depends on the severity of the hypoxia, the length of exposure, and the periodicity and frequency of exposure” (Rabalais, Turner, & Wiseman, Jr. ,2002). The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is more than 8,776 square miles long. While this dead zone occurs, not only does the wildlife needlessly suffer from an increase in mortality rates, but this also affects the economic stresses of fisherman in the area. It increases the price for seafood and affects consumers like that of a ripple effect. The fish and shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico are always in demand for consumers. During the times, the hypoxic water will sometimes shift closer to the shores of the gulf coast which results in “jubilees”. “Jubilees are events that usually follow a north wind and movement of the hypoxic water mass onto shore where stunned or stressed fish, shrimp, and crabs are concentrated in the shallow waters along the beach and can be easily harvested. A jubilee ‘gone bad’ occurs when the water mass is extremely low in oxygen or contains hydrogen sulfide, and the trapped fish cannot escape, results in massive fish kills” (Rabalais, Turner, & Wiseman, JR. , 2002). While some jubilees are an easy and quick way to make money, the downside is more often done; instead of catching an easy fish, you are literally swamped with dead and rotting marine life.

There are some ways to combat “Dead Zones” with preventative measures. “The Nature Conservancy is working with farmers, academia, governments, and the agriculture industry to tackle the challenge of nutrient runoff. A key goal is to help keep nutrients on fields and out of waterways through different farming practices- such as using cover crops, reduced tillage, crop rotation, and nutrient management to the benefit of both farmers and the environment” (Adams & Clemens, 2017). This also changes with people and groups coming together to fight for the conservation of the Gulf of Mexico. If there was a way to reduce the over-usage of certain fertilizers or limit how many go into the soil, perhaps we could promote the benefits of saving the gulf. Another way is to research and monitor how much of the nutrients are expelled into the Gulf of Mexico. A filtration system to reduce the number of contaminants into the ocean would help save the marine wildlife at risk and ensure the fishermen and the fishing industry that their playing field is safe to cast and set forth into providing for another day.

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