The Gulf of Mexico was spared from the record-breaking dead zone that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials feared would engulf the Gulf this year. However, 2013′s dead zone still reached approximately the size of Connecticut at 5,840 square miles.
Heavy spring rains and subsequent floods washed large amounts of nutrients into the Mississippi River this year. NOAA expected those nutrients to fuel a massive bloom of algae in the water south of New Orleans. That algae would then die and settle to the bottom of the sea and suck oxygen out of the water as they decayed. Oxygen-depleted water kills fish and can cause abnormal animal migrations and ecological chaos.
This year, the nutrients did indeed feed an algae explosion, but instead of creating a concentrated dead zone, winds pushed the oxygen-deprived waters to the east and helped mix the waters of the Gulf. The result was a dead zone that was only slightly larger than average, according to an annual NOAA-funded scientific mission that measures the dead zone.
The smaller the dead zone, the better for Texas and Louisiana’s $818 million commercial fishing industry, as well as amateur anglers who made an estimated 23 million recreational fishing trips to the region in 2011.
“For those who depend upon and enjoy the abundant natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico, it is imperative that we intensify our efforts to reduce nutrient pollution before the ecosystem degrades any further,” said Robert Magnien, director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research in a press release.
IMAGE: Map showing the hypoxia area on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2013. (LUMCON, Rabalais)