The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico Part 1: The Crisis at Hand

After recording a record-breaking dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico this week, scientists have shed light on the harsh reality that our water quality in the U.S. is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

A dead zone, also known as a hypoxic zone, is an area where oxygen levels are abnormally low, creating hostile living conditions for fish and marine life. They usually develop as a result of an influx of excess nutrients from upstream, and this particular dead zone measured out to 8,776 square miles, making it larger than the entire state of New Jersey. According to a recent article from National Geographic, the increase of farmland runoff into the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers has introduced an unprecedented amount of fertilizers and livestock waste into the ecosystem, boosting the nitrogen and phosphorus levels. The resulting chemical imbalance creates an overgrowth of algae, which then decomposes into the water and brings down the oxygen levels, creating a dead zone. The impact of low marine levels reaches far beyond the ecosystem itself, taking a serious toll on the economy of Gulf cities that rely on the fishing industry to thrive.

In a recent article by Environmental Working Group, they reported that “in 2015, water systems serving 7 million Americans across the continental U.S. contained unhealthy levels of nitrates.” High levels of nitrates have been linked to an increase in susceptibility to certain cancers, threatening the livelihood of anybody without the means to treat their water supply.

While measures have been enacted in an effort to remedy the crisis at hand in the Gulf of Mexico, the impact of this dead zone has caused many to wonder if the agricultural community realizes the effect they have had on the environment, the very source of their livelihood. The recent work of scientists and researchers has armed the public with the information necessary to make a change in their personal sphere of influence as well as in society at large.