AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a recently released forecast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a “dead zone” will return to the Gulf of Mexico this summer.
A dead zone is an area with little or no oxygen that can kill sea creatures.
This summer’s forecasted dead zone may be slightly smaller than that of last year, though still on par with the average size. NOAA started measuring the dead zone 35 years ago.
Last year, the dead zone in the gulf was about 6,300 square miles – “equivalent to more than four million acres of habitat potentially unavailable to fish and bottom species,” the Environmental Protection Agency said.
A dead zone forms when large quantities of algae accumulate in the water and eventually die, stripping the water of its oxygen content as the algae sink to the bottom. This leaves an insufficient amount of oxygen to support larger, more developed marine life.
Form the surface, you wouldn’t be able to tell which part of the Gulf of Mexico is a dead zone, according to the Gulf Preservation Society. The water looks no different to our eyes. However, you won’t find many fish swimming there, since there’s not enough oxygen to sustain them.
Dead zones, also referred to as “hypoxic zones,” can occur all throughout the world, however the Gulf of Mexico dead zone is the largest hypoxic zone near the United States.
Among the largest reasons for the formation of dead zones is the polluting runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus coming from various locations along the path of the Mississippi River. The Federal government is taking action to attempt to combat the polluting materials causing this annual dead zone.
According to NOAA, “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investing $60 million over the next five years to support the implementation of nutrient reduction strategies that will address the challenge of Gulf hypoxia.”
The EPA has committed to reducing the size of the Gulf dead zone and ideally, eliminating it altogether. Other organizations such as the Interagency Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force are working to fight Gulf hypoxia as well. They have set a long-term goal of decreasing the size of the Gulf dead zone by more than half its average size, hoping to reduce it to 1,900 square miles.
The largest-ever dead zone was measured in 2017, when the EPA found it measured approximately 8,776 square miles. That’s an area bigger than the state of New Jersey.
The financial commitment from the EPA is to be used over the next five years.