Gulf’s “dead zone” could be largest ever

By Brandon Richards, KPLCTV
19 June 2011

Scientists predict this year’s dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico will be the largest in history.

The dead zone, or hypoxic area, is a region of oxygen-depleted water located off the Louisiana coast. The zone is harmful to sea life, and as a result, to the fishing industry.

The dead zone forms each year as nutrient-rich freshwater from the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf, creating microscopic plants like algae. When the plants die off, their decay consumes the oxygen in the area. This causes sea life to die if they are not able to escape the area quickly.

"It’s a zone that you won’t find any, or at least very few fish or shrimp," said LSU professor Eugene Turner, who has researched the dead zone for more than 15 years.

This summer’s dead zone is forecast to stretch from the mouth of the Mississippi River westward to the Texas Coast. The zone is expected to cover an area larger than the state of New Hampshire.

Commercial fishermen and shrimpers in Cameron Parish are concerned about the impact the dead zone could have on them. It’s another headache local fishermen and shrimpers don’t want to worry about.

"It’s been hard this year," said Leo Dyson, a Cameron shrimper for five decades. "It’s going to have some impact if it’s offshore. It’s going to put the bigger boats on the beach. Too much fresh water is not good for shrimp, which is a saltwater species."

Ironically, hurricanes and tropical storms have played an important role in recent years in preventing the dead zone from becoming too big.

Scientists said the dead zone will not fully form until later in the summer.

For more information on the dead zone, visit

NOAA’s website.


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