"Dead Zones" Multiplying Fast, Coastal Water Study Says

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Government-supported scientists not involved with Diaz's review are forecasting an expansion of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone to a record 8,800 square miles (23,000 square kilometers), an area larger than New Jersey.

(Related story: "Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone" Is Size of New Jersey" [May 25, 2005])

Nancy Rabalais, executive director and professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, said the paper "shows that there is a lot of lost production of [seafloor] animals—those living in the sediments—that could be food" for fishery stocks.

Diaz and Rosenberg note in the press release that dead zones tend to be overlooked until they start to affect organisms that people eat.

Mixed Efforts

Some local and regional governments have stepped in with conservation and cleanup efforts to combat dead zones.

Maryland, for instance, gives $18 million a year in grants to farmers who plant additional crops after their harvest to absorb leftover fertilizer before it ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

Rabalais, who was not involved in the Diaz review, said she has seen little sustained effort to combat nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River.

"In the recent years of increased acreage of corn and biofuels, the amount of fertilizer used and the amount of nitrogen per volume of Mississippi River water has increased dramatically," Rabalais said.

"What we have is this pulse of nutrients that are coming down our rivers every year," Diaz added. "Somehow we have to find a way to stop that.

"The loss of fertilizer is an economic drain on the industry. It is not something the farming community wants to happen, and controlling it is the key to controlling the spread of dead zones."

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