Aug 11, 2017

Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone' is already a disaster – but it could get worse

Gulf of Mexico
by
Ian Hendy
,
The Conversation
Photo: Harvepino, Shutterstock
Photo: Harvepino, Shutterstock

The [Gulf of Mexico] “dead zone” has grown this year due to increased rainfall in America’s Midwest washing ever greater amounts of nutrients into the Mississippi, which ultimately end up in the Gulf. Not only is this a huge conservation issue – the Gulf contains key nursery habitats such as mangrove forests, sea grass beds and coral reefs that benefit adjacent fisheries – but it also has huge consequences for the local fishing economy, particularly the shrimp industry.

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Fish and other mobile sea creatures are able to escape the suffocating dead zone. Less lucky however are the sponges, corals, sea squirts and other animals who live their lives fixed in one place on the sea bed. Low oxygen levels place them under great stress and we have seen huge mortalities. Such losses will of course ripple up the food web, creating a negative chain reaction of increasing mortality rates in larger and larger animals.