top of page

NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts this year’s “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest ever measured. Stretching from the coast of Louisiana at the Mississippi River Delta westward to the shores of Texas, the area of severe hypoxia — when the water is so depleted of oxygen that it cannot sustain fish and marine life — encompasses 8,776 square miles. That is the size of New Jersey (or more than four million football fields). The dead zone in the Gulf has become a worrisome annual phenomenon due to excess nitrogen and other nutrients that run off from rivers like the Mississippi into the Gulf and feed the growth of algae. When the massive blooms of algae and phytoplankton die, their decomposition consumes all the oxygen in the ocean, creating a hypoxic area, or dead zone. The Gulf produces more than 40 percent of the nation’s domestic seafood supply and, according to the EDF, generates billions of dollars a year in wages for the fishing and tourism industries across five states. A NOAA-funded study by Duke University found that hypoxia in the Gulf in particular drives up the prices of large shrimp, creating an economic ripple effect on seafood markets and consumers. Every summer since 1985, NOAA has sponsored research and monitoring of hypoxia off the coast of Louisiana. It says the record-breaker this year is a result of higher rainfall in the Midwest and heavier river flows than usual. The most problematic nutrients that end up in the Gulf and feed the algae are nitrogen and phosphorous, which run off from myriad big and small farms across the country. Farmers use the nutrients as fertilizers on their fields, but rain can then wash that fertilizer into nearby streams and rivers. The Environmental Protection Agency’s website describes nutrient pollution as “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.” 



bottom of page