When humans abuse the environment and dump nitrate-and phosphorous-heavy pollutants into rivers, lakes, ponds and the sea, oxygen-deprived “dead zones” form. This is exactly what happened in the Gulf of Mexico – and it’s leading to the formation of the world’s largest algae bloom on record. Roughly the size of Connecticut, the substantial “dead zone” should be a wake-up call for local populations to change their habits — hopefully before it is too late.
Algae blooms, such as the one disrupting the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico, upset the balance of the food chains in the region. With too many algae in the same area, an abnormal amount dies then sink to the seafloor, where the bacteria that break them down use substantial amounts of oxygen. This results in a huge drawdown of oceanic oxygen and ultimately results in a mass die-off of larger marine life. The occurrence is known as “hypoxia,” and it’s the reason the Gulf of Mexico is in the state it is.
According to new research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico is becoming progressively worse. In fact, it is now roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Based on the agrochemical and wastewater runoff expected in the coming months, NOAA now predicts the dead zone will expand to encompass an area the size of New Jersey. To clarify, that is a 47 percent increase in just one year — and that’s a conservative estimate.
Related: Mexico-sized algae bloom in the Arabian Sea connected to climate change
According to The Washington Post, other researchers in Louisiana predict that the dead zone will actually increase to the size of Hawaii. If that happens, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico will become the largest ever recorded. As IFLScience reports, these are only predictions at this present time. However, there is cause for concern, as scientists who set off on patrol boats to measure the size of the dead zone have been scarily accurate with their estimates.
Whether the numbers are perfectly accurate or not, the persistent issue of pollution cannot be ignored. If humans fail to remedy their habits, continuing to live with little regard for the environment, environmental phenomenon worse than the present algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico will result.
Images via SEOS Project, Wikimedia