Workers test a new device to remove green algae from the Saint-Michel-en-Greves beach, western France, on June 29.
by Paul Darin:
Marine life is disappearing off the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Multiple government agencies just released a joint scientific assessment of the crisis. The purpose of their work is to learn how to prevent fishing collapse. “The nation’s coastal waters are vital to our quality of life, our culture, and the economy,” wrote Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, and John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Nearly every coastal state has a marine dead zone, from Boston, Mass., to Florida, and around the Gulf to Texas, the West Coast, and even some Great Lake states. According to the report, over the past 50 years global dead zones have risen approximately by a factor of 10 times. But U.S. coastal dead zones have been growing by a factor of 30 times and continue to grow.
The cause is hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the water). Marine life breathes dissolved oxygen in ocean or lake water. When there is not enough dissolved oxygen to support life then it will die. For a long time global warming was thought to be the primary instigator but many scientists now believe that farm field runoff rich in fertilizer is the main culprit. The fertilizer runoff stimulates the growth of algae that pulls oxygen out of the water leaving nothing for other life.
Global warming can’t be completely dismissed. Rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures give the algae a more suitable environment to grow. If this matter is not resolved in the near future then serious environmental and economic problems could face the American public and the entire planet. Many species could be driven away, or disappear while the price of fish, shrimp, and other marine foods could soar out of control.
This is an issue that the government takes very seriously. In 2004, Congress issued the Harmful Algae Bloom and Hypoxia Act, which described ocean hypoxia as probably the most harmful and complex environmental issue facing the world today.
The inter-agency report was commissioned by President Barack Obama and involves major government contributors such as the Office of Science and Technology and the Council on Environmental Quality. It puts a new focus on ocean hypoxia from a fertilizer runoff perspective, and addresses measures to take on the crisis such as consistent ocean oxygen level monitoring, and methods of reducing runoff. Wiser farming practices along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers could slow the growth of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, for example.
Things may not be beyond the point of no return. Just as the holes in the ozone layer were stunted with the banning of certain gases, this issue may be corrected if proper measures are taken in time.