Midwest Water Managers Travel to the Gulf of Mexico

By LUMCON e-Newsletter
January 2009


Water quality managers from several midwestern states and regional offices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gathered in Cocodrie at LUMCON (Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium) for a first-hand look at what causes the low-oxygen area in the Gulf of Mexico, commonly known as the ‘Dead Zone.’
The group of land-lubbers sailed on the R/V Acadiana on December 17 into Terrebonne Bay to see how the research team of Dr. Nancy Rabalais conducts their research on the area of low oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the venue was not quite the same in Terrebonne Bay as out in the Gulf of Mexico, similar procedures were carried out, such as deployment of two different salinity/temperature/dissolved oxygen/depth probes, collection of water samples for phytoplankton analysis, collection of benthic samples to assess the bottom sediment community, and a trawl to see if there were any fish in the area. The cruise was in winter, in a period of cold water, little stratification, and few organisms in the trawl or mud grab, but these situations were similar, at least for the organisms, to that found in the Dead Zone in the middle of the summer. The trawl catch was easy to count with mostly small squid, a few croaker, bumper, and white trout, a few juvenile white shrimp, and a few portunid crabs (related to blue crabs). Dugan Sabins of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality provided the expertise for the trawl sample. Dr. Nancy Rabalais provided the expertise for the benthic sample, which was simple because there were no organisms in the mud grab. The participants conducted their own samples with water quality instruments, collected their own water samples and discussed the results of the data in the context of low oxygen conditions.
The day ended with a shrimp boil for the participants at the LUMCON Marine Center. The prior day was spent in discussions of strategies to address the hypoxia problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Attending the workshop on Dec 16 and the trip on the Acadiana on Dec 17 were representatives from EPA Regions 4, 5, 6, and 7, the Gulf of Mexico Program, LUMCON, and the states of Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The Acadiana provided a good venue for the further discussions of the participants on ways to reduce nutrients and bring down the size of the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.