As we wrote about Tuesday, there's a massive swath of water just south of the Mississippi Delta that becomes uninhabitable by marine life every summer, and researchers say agricultural operations upriver, namely massive factory farms, are the culprit because their waste (manure and nitrogen fertilizer runoff) feeds harmful algae blooms. When said algae dies and decays downriver, it sucks up most or all the available oxygen in the area — which causes fish and other ocean creatures to flee or die.
Federal researchers say this year, the dead zone is worse than ever.
On Wednesday, NOAA scientists, the dead zone is now 8,776 square miles — the largest area since the agency began mapping it in 1985. They had previously predicted the zone would be about 600 square miles smaller, which would have made it the third largest on record. Prior to this summer, the biggest area ever recorded was 8,497 square miles in 2002.
Both of those dwarf the dead zone's average area of 5,806 square miles — which is nearly three times the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force goal of 1,900 square miles.
That's a lot of dead fish, sick fish, malformed fish, sick cetaceans (from ingesting said fish).
Researchers are particularly worried about Gulf shrimp, since they correlate the dead zone with stunted growth of shrimp taken from nearby waters.
“The Gulf’s summer hypoxic zone continues to put important habitats and valuable fisheries under intense stress,” said Rob Magnien, director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, in a previous media statement. “Although there is some progress in reducing nutrients, the effects of the dead zone may further threaten the region’s coastal economies if current levels remain.”
NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, funds efforts to quantify the extant to which runoff from large-scale agricultural operations impacts the dead zone as well as how effective efforts to curb runoff from big ag have been.
The news has not been good in either regard — not that it will effect federal policy for the time being, given that the Trump administration's approach to protecting the environment has been to undermine environmental protections. (Seriously.)