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  • The rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico crash at the shoreline of the Treasure Island community of West Galveston Island, Texas March 6, 2014.

    The rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico crash at the shoreline of the Treasure Island community of West Galveston Island, Texas March 6, 2014. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 June 2019

The area could spread to about 20,577 square kilometers or about 2,900 football fields, scientists at Louisiana State University said.

A near record-sized “dead zone” of oxygen-starved water could form and expand in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, threatening its huge stocks of marine life, researchers warned on Monday.

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The area could spread to about 20,577 square kilometers, scientists at Louisiana State University said, or about 2,900 football fields, and larger than the five-year average of 14,944 square km.

“A major factor contributing to the large dead zone this year is the abnormally high amount of spring rainfall in many parts of the Mississippi River watershed,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its annual “dead zone” forecast.

Experts blame unusually high rainfall across the United States Midwest this Spring that washed farm fertilizers along streams and rivers through the Mississippi River Basin out into the Gulf. The nutrients in the fertilizers feed algae that die, decompose and deplete the water of oxygen.

“When the oxygen is below two parts per million any shrimp, crab, and fish that can swim away, will swim away,” Louisiana State University ocean ecologist Nancy Rabalais told National Geographic magazine, adding that “the animals in the sediment [that can’t swim away] can be close to annihilated.”

And the problem might get even worse if any more significant tropical storms wash out more farm-fed nutrients. Sewage runoff, caused by spring floods, also add to the problem, National Geographic reported.

A Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force has been monitoring the problem and has set goals to reduce run-off of fertilizers and sewage. 

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