Grand Isle will host dead-zone conference

August 10. 2007; Houma Daily Courier

HOUMA — Contrary to the term "dead zone," Grand Isle, which rests near the oxygen-depleted water’s edge, has been experiencing a bounty of shrimp, crabs and fish crowding into the island’s fishing grounds.

Called a "jubilee" — for the emotions many fisherman experience when filling their nets — the abundant fish are fleeing to escape suffocation in this year’s 5,200-square-mile dead zone, a virtually lifeless area of low oxygen reaching from waters off Galveston, Texas, all the way to Plaquemines Parish.

While the bounty might be a happy side effect for fishermen, island leaders are beginning to feel too close to the dead zone for comfort.

"We’re living in the edge effect, and fishermen are getting a bounty. There are jubilees on the beach, and a surplus of marine life," said Wayne Keller, Grand Isle port commissioner. "But all we need is for the dead zone to move 20 or 30 miles, and we’d be in it."

The dead zone is formed when warm river waters flow onto the top of the Gulf of Mexico carrying excess nitrogen and phosphorous that, when mixed with sunlight and warm summer waters, fuel enormous algae blooms on the water’s surface.

These blooms eventually die and sink to the bottom to decay in large numbers. That process sucks all of the oxygen out of water at lower depths, and bottom-dwelling critters, like shrimp, crabs and mollusks, must either escape or suffocate.

Grand Isle will host a dead-zone conference for concerned citizens and fishermen who want to learn more about the phenomenon and to strategize about how to stop it. The conference runs from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Grand Isle Community Center on La. 1.

"This is an extremely pressing issue," Keller said. "Fishing is both a recreational and commercial industry on the island, and many of our livelihoods depend on the tourism that brings in."

Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana University Marine Consortium, or LUMCON, and one of the leading dead-zone experts, will give a presentation on some of the institute’s latest research on the phenomenon.

Gregory Stone, director of the LSU Coastal Studies Institute, Kerry St. Pé, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and Doug Daigle, coordinator of the Lower Mississippi River Sub-Basin Committee will also speak.

After the presentation, attendees can brainstorm on how to help curb the growth of the dead zone, and counteract its causes and effects.

Keller requested that all concerned residents, commercial and recreational fishermen, charter captains, business people involved in the tourism industry attend the conference, adding he thinks a grass-roots campaign could help stop the growing problem.

There will be a free dinner following the conference, and those interested should RSVP by Sept. 5.

For information or to make a reservation, contact Keller at or at 787-2229. An e-mail is preferred, if possible.

Guests from out of town are invited to stay the night. Grand Isle officials will host some special events for attendees Sept. 8, including sailboat rides, nature and history tours and other activities.