Gulf’s ‘dead zone’ swelled this summer to one of largest areas on recordBy By Sharon Schmickle , Minn Post
Thu, Sep 2 2010
MinnPost photo by Sharon SchmickleMatt Rota: "We really aren’t going to know the full impact for years to come."
The Gulf of Mexico’s so-called dead zone swelled this summer to afflict one of the largest areas on record. Further, in a dramatic double-play disaster, it rubbed up against the massive BP oil spill.
Such are the problems confronting members of the Mississippi River Collaborative at their annual meeting in Minneapolis this week.
At this point, no one knows the full impact of the tandem disasters on life in the Gulf, said Matt Rota, who directs the water resources program for the Gulf Restoration Network in New Orleans.
His network is one of more than 20 environmental organizations making up the collaborative, which is a longstanding project of the McKnight Foundation. They represent nonprofits working along the reaches of the Mississippi and its tributaries from Minnesota to the Gulf.
Rota took a break from meetings at the Mill City Museum to talk with MinnPost.
A local issue
In a sense, the dead zone is a local issue for Minnesota and every other state flanking the Mississippi. From farms to cities, people throughout the mighty river’s basin contribute to the problem.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemicals flowing downstream from those states collect in the Gulf, where they stimulate an unnatural super bloom of algae. The algae die and sink to the bottom, where bacteria decompose them. And the bacteria suck up oxygen, leaving the water in a state known as hypoxia — which means there is inadequate oxygen to support living cells.
In other words, fish must flee for their lives. And slower-moving creatures like oysters and clams can suffocate.
Despite efforts over several years to curb the chemical runoff, this summer’s dead zone was one of the largest measured since researchers from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Louisiana State University began routine mapping in 1985, the scientists reported