Friday, July 09, 2010

Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone" (NOT from BP Spill)

Just in case you thought the Gulf of Mexico was a pristine body of water prior to the BP Oil Leak incident, think again. I find the response to the oil-spill in the Gulf , by the public at large, both predictable and amazing in a way... they mostly exhort passionate outcries and admonishments focused around how evil BP is and how terrible the oil spill is because it is poisoning the water in the Gulf.

Why are people everywhere only NOW concerned with the state of the Gulf? Simply put: because the media is giving it mass attention and NOT telling people that the Gulf of Mexico has been suffering from all sorts of poisonings and water-quality degradations for decades; though, much of the damage to-date is not so *visible* from the surface. And, the downward spiral in Gulf water quality - as usual - has to do with how we ALL behave...

I have been following the decline in the Gulf of Mexico for years - in particular the issue of long-term marine "Dead Zones" (i.e., deoxygenated/hypoxia zones) caused primarily by the mass infusion of fertilizers that have migrated to the Gulf from farmland runoff (some originating all the way back in the Midwest "corn belt").

Fertilizers and livestock waste are the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that cause the annual Gulf of Mexico dead-zone phenomenon (i.e., hypoxia zone, or oxygen-starved zones). Farmers apply abundant amounts to fields so that we can all enjoy the short-term benefit of relatively "cheap" crops that grow quickly with the aid of petroleum-based fertilizers. Homeowners feel they must also contribute to the problem by fertilizing their yards for the perfect green lawn... and, then there is the mass use of toxic herbicides used on lawns and fields everywhere. This all leads to a severe problem when it poisons our waters and makes the Gulf (and other water sources) uninhabitable by marine life! Where are all the outcries to stop using fertilizers that are killing the Gulf, its fisheries, and the potential for marine life there?

I think this image says it all:
Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zones"
The red and yellow areas show the approximate boundaries of a Gulf of Mexico dead zone from several years ago [i.e., well before any BP Oil Spill issues]. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio provided main image)
I just read an article about how the 2010 Gulf Dead Zone is predicted to be huge (and, again, this is WITHOUT the impact of the BP Oil Spill). Just read this text excerpt from the story, and you will perhaps understand how bad of shape the Gulf is in, regardless of the oil spill:
University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia and his colleagues say this year's [2010] Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" is expected to be larger than average, continuing a decades-long trend that threatens the health of a $659 million fishery.


The most likely scenario, according to Scavia, is a Gulf dead zone of 6,564 square miles, which would make it [2010] the Gulf's 10th-largest oxygen-starved, or hypoxic, region on record. The average size over the past five years was about 6,000 square miles.

It is unclear what impact, if any, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will have on the size of this year's Gulf dead zone because numerous factors are at work, the researchers say.
OK everyone... it is time to wake up to the cold hard reality that we are poisoning the planet at an exceptional rate, and that the BP oil spill is just one contributor to the whole. If people in the Gulf region can sue BP for damages to their way of life, why are the Gulf of Mexico fisherman and shellfish harvesters not suing farmers in the Midwest and South for killing off the fish in the Gulf with dead-zones caused by their fertilizers?

Although there is definitive proof that the Gulf fishing industry is taking a beating from all the fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals entering the Gulf water every year for decades, why is it just NOW that there is a potential lawsuit for damages to the Gulf? Simple: BP makes an easy target... one company to point a finger at... one company with "deep pockets"... one company in the news daily. Perhaps fisherman should consider the fact that OTHER large companies that manufacture fertilizer and other toxic chemicals (that make their way into the Gulf) also have deep pockets?!

Heck, if blame is to finally be made and damages are to be collected, the Gulf fishermen should pursue collecting damages from those other companies (fertilizer manufacturers, large agri-business, etc) too... the ones whose products created the 6,000+ square miles of "dead zones" in their fishing areas. But, it will never happen. Why? Because the other firms are not in the news, because their contribution to the mess in the Gulf has happened over a long period of time and is not noticeable to the average person sitting at the beach. And, not enough of us are willing to give up our (supposedly) "cheap" crops and our beautiful green lawns.

Instead, there will be very little discord with regards to the Gulf: people will blame BP for everything and ignore the fact that this body of water was already experiencing major issues before the current oil spill, and many other bodies of water are equally at risk and experiencing similar damage throughout the US coastal regions and waterways. Can we please start trying to clean up our water elsewhere without something as noticeable as an oil spill to spark our attention!?