The northern Gulf of Mexico has long served as an illustration of the dangers and economic costs associated with marine hypoxia. Also called “dead zones,” marine hypoxia is a shortage of oxygen in ocean waters due to terrestrial run-off of nitrogen, phosphorous and pollutants from cities, farms, oil refineries and industrial plants. Not limited to the Gulf of Mexico, marine “dead zones” have been identified around the world–suffocating marine life, snuffing out ecosystems and biodiversity, and ruining once-thriving fisheries and communities.
Looking to restore the northern Gulf of Mexico-Mississippi River Basin to something approaching its former glory, the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force yesterday announced a groundbreaking partnership made up of land grant universities, federal agencies and other stakeholder organizations across the 12-state basin.
Bringing life back to the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone”
Dubbed the “Hypoxia Task Force,” five federal agencies, indigenous tribes, and environmental quality, agricultural and conservation agencies from 12 states will partner with land grant universities in an effort to reduce nutrient pollution and shrink the northern Gulf dead zone down to size.
Given the scale, scope and complexity of the problem of marine hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico, wholesale and wide-scale changes to current practices and attitudes in agriculture, energy, industry and urban lifestyles are likely to be required if the Hypoxia Task Force is to succeed.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of the task force’s five participating federal agencies, elaborates in its news release:
“Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the air and water. The impacts of nutrient pollution are found in all types of water bodies.
“More than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams, close to 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and more than 800 square miles of bays and estuaries in the United States have poor water quality because of nutrient pollution.”
The “Hypoxia Task Force”
The EPA notes that a lot of research and groundwork on marine hypoxia and interrelated problems has already been done in individual Gulf of Mexico-Mississippi River Basin states. “Individual states are already collaborating with their respective land grant universities on local water quality research and agricultural programs,” according to the news release.
What’s been lacking, EPA adds, is a specific focus on the issue of marine hypoxia or an institutionalized process for sharing university research and ideas among the 12 states that will participate in the Hypoxia Task Force.
Likewise, universities across the Gulf of Mexico-Mississippi River Basin states now party to the task force have been conducting research on issues interrelated with the marine dead zone in the northern Gulf, such as soil conservation, water quality, and the pathways agricultural nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous take through water bodies.
The new network established by the Hypoxia Task Force, the EPA says, “will bring additional expertise to help reduce nutrient runoff and advise the task force and other national policy makers.”
Check out the EPA’s “Nutrient Pollution Policy and Data” website for more on what the EPA, the federal government and other stakeholders are doing to reduce nutrient pollution and shrink marine and aquatic dead zones down to size.
*Image credits: 1) OceanDoctor.org; 2 & 3) U.S. EPA