This low-oxygen area is the size of the state of Connecticut.
The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is a region where the water contains no oxygen, which grew to its largest size this summer.
According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it’s an area slightly larger than the state of Connecticut in the United States.
According to the NOAA report, the effects of marine pollution have made this lifeless zone grow to approximately 6,334 square miles, or 16,404 square kilometers.
This recorded measurement was higher than the average figure for this area in the last five years, of around 5,380 square miles.
Life is impossible for any type of marine species in this area, simply because it’s a body of water without oxygen.
This uninhabitable area lies off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, a region that’s constantly hit by hurricanes.
The hypoxic Gulf of Mexico dead zone was first documented between 1972 and 1974.
What is happening in the area has been documented due to scientific and economic interest for several decades.
This year, a group of researchers from Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium led a survey during a research cruise that took place from July 25 to August 1.
Fish and other commercial species usually move out to sea to avoid the dead zone.
Fishermen are forced to travel farther from land to make their catches, adding stress to an industry already affected by hurricanes and oil spills.
Species that can’t move die off, leading to the name “dead zone”, which occurs at the bottom of a body of water when there is not enough oxygen to sustain marine life.
Just in: Larger-than-average Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’ measured.
River discharge and nutrient loads contribute to size.
— NOAA Communications (@NOAAComms) August 3, 2021
Each year, excess nutrients from cities, farms, and other sources in upland watersheds drain into the Gulf of Mexico and stimulate algal growth during the spring and summer.
The algae eventually die, sink, and decompose. Throughout this process, oxygen-consuming bacteria decompose the algae.
The resulting low oxygen levels near the bottom are insufficient to support most marine life.
According to the NOAA, exposure to hypoxic waters has been found to alter fish diets, growth rates, reproduction, habitat use, and availability of commercially harvested species like shrimp.
Nicole LeBoeuf, Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service, said it’s important to understand the scale and effects of these hypoxia events.
“(Thus) we can better inform the best strategies to reduce its size and minimize impacts to our coastal resources and economy.”
She said that NOAA and its partners use the latest data to help refine models and more accurately simulate how river discharge, nutrient loads, and oceanographic conditions influence hypoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.
The average hypoxic zone over the past five years is 5,380 square miles, which is 2.8 times larger than the 2035 target set by the Hypoxia Task Force.
Since records began in 1985, the largest hypoxic zone measured was 8,776 square miles in 2017.