The oxygen-poor “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico may be the biggest on record this year, nearly doubling in size to cover an area of ocean as large as Vermont, scientists at Louisiana State University estimate.
The dead zone develops when nitrogen-rich runoff from the Midwestern farm belt pours into rivers and out into the Gulf. That runoff is loaded with fertilizer, as well as nutrients from animal and human waste, and it fuels the growth of algae that die, sink, and decompose, depleting oxygen levels offshore. That drives away marine life in the zone — or kills species that can’t escape.
This year, LSU and its partners in the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium estimate the zone will cover more than 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers) off the shores of Louisiana and Texas. High water in the Mississippi River and higher-than-average nitrogen concentrations in the waterway this spring are driving the estimate upward, said Nancy Rabalais, a professor of marine ecosystems at LSU…
Efforts to tackle the roots of the zone have had little effect so far, Rabalais said. Some farms are adopting practices that reduce the amount of fertilizers and tilling needed to grow crops, “but the percentage of the area in the watershed is quite small.”
“There’s a federal-state task force to come up with recommendations state-by-state to reduce nutrients,” she said. “If you read the details of the forecast and the changes in flows over time, you can see there hasn’t been much of a change. Which means the few really concerted efforts to reduce nutrients have been overwhelmed by the usual way of big agribusiness in the watershed.”
Small farmers – like my kin in Canada – can’t afford to waste money on over-fertilizing. Often, they’re closer to environmental concerns, anyway. The bigger the operation, the more folks think like careless beancounters. They think they save more dollar$ by eliminating human beings than crap supplements.