Sections and regions of the earth’s oceans and large lakes that have significantly lowered oxygen levels are referred to as “Dead Zone’s”. These low-oxygen, or hypoxic, environments typically form as a result of chemical runoff during which large concentrations of elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus are deposited into the water. In turn, algae and other single-celled plant life are able to feed off of these elements which result in the development of an algal bloom, or a mass increase in the algae population in the area. Since algae consume oxygen and omit carbon dioxide (similar to the way humans breathe), all, or most, of the oxygen in the local environment is depleted, resulting in the dying off of all other aquatic life in the area.
Dead zones occur in several coastal areas off of the United States, particularly within the Gulf of Mexico. This body of water supplies a very large portion of the United States seafood supply, and the cyclical intensity and extent of these dead zones results not only in huge environmental impacts in these areas, but can have devastating economical impacts as well. Luckily, there are many actions you can take as an individual to have an impact on the intensity and subsequent impact that these dead zones have. For starters, buy local foods from farms that use limited chemicals and fertilizers, as runoff from big farms that use a ton of chemicals are a main culprit driving the creation of these dead zones. Dispose of pharmaceuticals, household cleaners and other chemicals in an environmentally conscious way, and as always, get informed and educate those around you to do the same. For more information regarding the causes and effects this Dead Zone has, as well as ways to get involved, please visit: http://www.smm.org/deadzone/.