Project

Shrinking the Gulf Coast Dead Zones

Ocean dead zones—areas of water without oxygen—have grown ten-fold since 1950. In 2017 the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, the largest in the U.S., had grown to cover 8,776 square miles, the size of New Jersey.

Declines in oxygen happen when agricultural fertilizers leak into the ocean. They prompt the growth of algae which suck up resources, choking aquatic life, impacting fishing industries, and leading to mass extinction.

Rising global temperatures compound the problem, decreasing oxygen solubility in water, hindering the ability of ecosystems to repair.

Across the Mississippi River Basin, the USDA and the EPA have granted millions of dollars to scientific groups for the development and implementation of nutrient strategies which are just now seeing results.

This project explores the gradual implementation of cover crops, wet-land replanting, and bioreactors that limit nitrogen pollution across the Midwest and loss of biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico.

Farmers today are the first generation experimenting with new procedures and represent a positive force in the shrinking of a long-standing environmental problem—and the only hope for a return to healthy marine ecosystems.

Shrinking the Gulf Coast Dead Zone Part 1: Downriver

In the first part of a special two-part series, reporter and photographer Spike Johnson examines how dead zones affect the Gulf seafood industry and efforts being taken in Louisiana to mitigate the problem.