by BRETT MARINO
How large, how detrimental will the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone” be this year? Forecasters from the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium predict a possible record breaker, which is bad news for Louisiana fisheries.
Before we get to the prediction, let’s talk about what a “dead zone” actually is. A “dead zone” is another name for a hypoxia zone, or an area of water low in oxygen. These zones may occur naturally, but in major hypoxia areas, such as the Gulf’s Dead Zone, human intrusion is to blame. Scientists call the intrusion, “nutrient pollution,” which translates in our case to all of the waste of the entire Midwest being flushed into the Mississippi and discharged into the Gulf of Mexico. When the freshwater/waste solution mixes with saltwater, algae grows, lives a short life then dies. The decomposition of this algae uses up a lot of oxygen, previously available to all types of sea life. These zones are so large, wildlife cannot escape so they suffocate, and die; thus the whole zone of decaying algae build-up is dead and deemed a “Dead Zone”.
The forecasts for this year predict the decomposing algae zone to be between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles. This estimate is very high, considering that last year’s zone was the smallest it has been in several years. Reason: spring rain. Last year the country experienced a major drought, causing less and less nutrient and waste run-off. Therefore, less spring rain equals a smaller dead zone, while more spring rain equals a larger dead zone. And since we have had a wet spring, Louisiana fishermen have to deal with a dead zone about the size of New Jersey.
I must admit that this problem is a headache, and that I really don’t know what to do about it; but it is a very important event, and if anybody should stand up and speak out about it, it should be us, Louisianians. For in the end, we, as stewards of the Gulf, will pay the price owed to Mother Nature.
Now, don’t get me wrong, although I am passionate about combating the excess pollution of our current systems, I am also a realist. I know that we are not going to cease the entire Midwest’s sewage water coming down the Mississippi River, nor halt the application of nitrogen fertilizers. But we need to do something.
If this seems too big, let’s bring it into perspective. Let’s say you and your family lived downhill from another, and one day you realized that all the fish in your pond died, and not only that, but one of your children was sick from swimming in the pond. And, you had conclusive evidence that wastewater from your neighbor’s place was to blame. What would you do? What if they refused to stop?
In my bones I am a conservative American, and in being so, regulation is a word of incredible distaste, but my water has also become distasteful. If our countrymen to the north continue to burden us with their waste while we in turn give them our resources of oil and gas at the same price as our brothers and sisters of the Gulf Coast, then I am going to call regulation on your industrial and sewage waste. If not, then our “Sportsman’s Paradise” might become a sportsman’s nightmare.
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