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Fact Check: Gulf of Mexico's dead zone - KRISTV.com | Continuous News Coverage | Corpus Christi

Fact Check: Gulf of Mexico's dead zone

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Photo: Corpus Christi Bay Photo: Corpus Christi Bay
Photo: Larry McKinney, Executive Director Harte Research Institute Photo: Larry McKinney, Executive Director Harte Research Institute
According to Duke University scientists, the dead zone may slow the growth of shrimp. That would lead to fewer large shrimp and a short term disruption of the shrimp market. According to Duke University scientists, the dead zone may slow the growth of shrimp. That would lead to fewer large shrimp and a short term disruption of the shrimp market.
CORPUS CHRISTI -

There's alarming news about an area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone. 

That's an area in the gulf where oxygen levels are so low, and it can't support marine life. And a just released survey shows that this year's dead zone is the largest ever recorded covering more than 8,700 square miles.

So KRIS 6 News decided to do a fact check.

Fact or fiction.

Is the dead zone in the gulf a threat to the Coastal Bend.

The KRIS 6 News fact-check team has determined that the Gulf dead zone is a future threat to the Coastal Bend and there's another threat that's already here.

Scientists have been monitoring the Gulf's dead zone since 1985. And again this year, it's the largest ever recorded. It covers more than 8,700 square miles an area the size of New Jersey.

In normal sea water, oxygen levels run eight to ten parts per million. Concentrations in the dead zone are just two parts per billion.

Larry McKinney, Executive Director Harte Research Institute, says at two parts per million, fish can't live in it, anything that can't move from the bottom, that are residing at the bottom, they all die. The dead zones have occurred since before the U.S. was settled, but corn and soybean farming in the Midwest has caused it to explode in size.

Rain causes fertilizer to run off into the Mississippi River which carries it into the Gulf.

The fertilizer sparks algal blooms that then will die off, and as the algae decays, it uses up the oxygen in the water setting off a deadly domino effect.

McKinney says,"if a significant part of it has not oxygen, that means animals can't live, they can't reproduce, so there's nothing to catch so it has a tremendous impact on our commercial fisheries and our recreational fisheries too."

Now imagine a scenario like that on a smaller scale right here in Corpus Christi Bay, and it's already happening.

"Although this, the hypoxia zone associated with the Mississippi River is a Gulf wide phenomena, we have hypoxia here in the Corpus Christi area," McKinney says. Our dead zone is caused by run off from Oso Creek. "When it rains on like the Oso Creek, the Oso Creek, and Oso Bay, that washes nutrients from our lawns and everything else down into Corpus Christi Bay," McKinney continued.

And just as the dead zone in the Gulf puts the nation's multi-million dollar fishing industry in danger, our dead zone poses an environmental and economic threat for the Coastal Bend.

According to Duke University scientists, the dead zone may slow the growth of shrimp. That would lead to fewer large shrimp and a short term disruption of the shrimp market.

McKinney says,"we need to do things in Oso Creek and Oso Bay to minimize the potential of these hypoxia zones in Corpus Christi Bay. As the same effect, fish can't live in it, anything on the bottom dies, and so it has a tremendous impact on our commercial fisheries, on our recreational fishing and tourism as well."

But addressing the causes of our local dead zone would only be one small victory in a much larger war.

There is still the Gulf dead zone to worry about, and scientists are sounding the alarm.

"A lot of people think of this only as a Louisiana issue, but if you look at how it spreads, expands when the dead zone gets bigger, it's not like a balloon, it doesn't expand out, because of the current it comes right to Texas," McKinney says. "Right now it seems to be affecting almost as far as Galveston Bay if it ever gets bigger, it's coming our way," McKinney continued.

There are efforts underway to do something about the dead zone. In a study published last week by the national academy of science, researchers say they can reduce the size of the dead zone by two-thirds.

They propose a national plan of action to plant cover crops on fields in between corn and soybean season. That would reduce the flow of nitrogen containing fertilizer into the Mississippi by 59 percent. 

This is already being done on a small scale at research farms. 

If there's something, you'd like for us to fact check, e-mail your suggestions factcheck@kristv.com.

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