In the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico there is a yearly occurrence of what is now called the “Dead Zone” that has grown to nearly the size of Connecticut. This event is caused by algal blooms which causes a depletion of the oxygen in the water, this then results in a hypoxic zone. The lack of oxygen makes the water inhospitable for marine life and kills what is there if it is unable to move to other waters. Every year it appears that the Dead Zone is expanding and this has immediate effects on the surrounding environment and economy. The shrimp and oysters in Louisiana is typically a thriving source of income, but the Dead Zone is diminishing that. Just 30 years ago, 90% of shrimp consumed in the United States came from Louisiana, but now it is only 30%.
The expansion of the Dead Zone can be credited to the expansion of fertilizer used in Corn Belt of the United States. In the past few decades, the usage of fertilizer in agriculture has increased significantly. A very important ingredient of fertilizer is nitrogen. Nitrogen is a limiting nutrient, meaning that it dictates the growth of many organisms. When put into fertilizer it typically generates much more of whatever crop is being grown than soil without nitrogen. These nitrogen-filled fertilizers have had a very positive impact on the agriculture industry, but the introduction of large amounts of nitrogen to very delicate ecosystems can have a very large effect. The Mississippi River Drainage Basin (pictured below) is what brings all of the runoff of fertilizers (containing high amounts of nitrogen) into the Gulf of Mexico.
The practices of intensive farming have had serious effects to environment. Just from 2002 to 2007, there was a 30% increase in the nitrogen levels of the water in the Mississippi River. Also, there has been a 300% increase in the level of algae-boosting nutrients in the past century. The increases of these factors negatively impact the creatures living in these waters.
In order to minimize this dangerous Dead Zone there must be a change in agricultural norms. The usage of nitrogen-filled fertilizers must be regulated in order to prevent more runoff and larger algal blooms. The protection of the Gulf of Mexico is vital not only for the environment, but also for the economies of those states surrounding it.