TO: Company Executive FROM: Victor Grigorov, The Environmentalist DATE: Sep 11th, 2010 SUBJECT: DEAD ZONES AROUND THE WORLD Dead zones have naturally been occurring on this planet for a very long time. Nevertheless, they have never been occurring so quickly, and at such unprecedented scales. So what are they? They occur in bodies of water where amounts of oxygen are exceptionally small or non-existent. Those places can usually be found near the coastlines of well-developed countries, or stale lakes and slow moving rivers. Their sizes may vary dramatically. From a few square miles, to bodies of water greater than 45,000 square miles (MSNBC, 2004). They have been reported to affect more than 400 water systems, and have a total size of more than 152,000 square miles (Diaz & Rosenberg). Areas that have been greatly affected are mostly on the East Coast of the United States, and in Western Europe (Mee, 2006). Countries like the US, England, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, and Poland seem to have the most affected coastlines. How exactly they occur can differ from place to place, but most of them lead back to one specific source, us, humans. Although they can occur naturally on the planet, most of them are anthropogenic. Most scientist today agree that they have been formed through a process called eutrophication, “the over enrichment of the sea by nutrients (principally compounds containing nitrogen and phosphorus) that promote plant growth” (Mee, 2006). These nutrients run off and are absorbed by bodies of water, thus causing an exponential expansion of algae. This in turn causes the water to turn green and/or brown, and when this occurs, sunlight cannot reach the bottom of that body of water. Plants that produce the oxygen and help feed the marine life, simply die off, due to the lack of sunlight to produce oxygen. And when that happens, crabs, fish, and oysters are wiped off, thus creating what we now call a “dead zone”. These dead zones have been created time over time in places where humans are thriving and expanding at a very fast rate. Most of these dead zones have indeed occurred near the coastlines of populated cities. The need to sustain the human population has pushed the boundaries of agriculture, and forced growing of crops to be fueled with an abnormally large amount of nutrients. The ones that aren’t used in the process, are absorber by small rivers and land, and are dumped right off the coastlines, helping to create and fuel the dead zones. This can be seen happening in the Gulf of Mexico, “where the Mississippi River dumps fertilizer runoff from the Midwest” (MSNBC, 2004). In recent years the dead zone in the Gulf has become as large as the size of Massachusetts (Venkataranam, 2009). In the wild, larger animals and fish that rely on smaller fish for food in that region, no longer have that supply, and are forced to relocate or die off. This not only hurts the surrounding wildlife and environment, but also the small cities and communities that depend on those animals for food and income. Fishing becomes next to impossible in those conditions, and leaves many workers unemployed. This was seen in countries all around the Black Sea where fishing became an arduous task during the 1960s-1980s (Mee, 2006). Small towns in Bulgaria and Romania that fueled their economy from fishing collapsed, and were forced to move inland in order to survive. Flows of nitrogen and phosphorus from the land were channeled into the Black Sea through the Danube River, causing eutrophication to occur. Once that had happened, much of the sea turned brown near the coast lines for the next 20 year, and was considered one of the biggest dead zones. Only after the Soviet Union collapsed and mass scale farming decreased in 1989, did the dead zone start to get smaller (Mee, 2006). Knowing how to prevent such disasters from happening abroad as well as in our Chesapeake Bay, is the key to minimizing the formation of such dead zones around the world. Governments must not only realize that there are major problems off the coasts of their countries, but also believe that it is an important goal and to take action. Agricultural practices will need to be changed if we want to see some results in the next couple decades in places like the Gulf of Mexico. One way to do that is to decrease the amount of nutrient runoff that goes into the water by treating the land along the coastline with fewer fertilizers. This will only allow for just enough nitrogen and phosphorus to be absorbed by the soil. Also, along with the Ocean Dumping Act which limits the discarding of certain materials into the ocean, better wastewater management must be done in order to prevent that xtra nitrogen enriched water to enter the oceans (Venkataranam, 2009). Finally, one of the most cost effective solutions to the problem would be to plant large amounts of forests and grasslands around those effected coastlines. This would allow those excess levels of nutrients to be absorbed far before they reach the oceans and seas. Preserving our marine life is an important part of our role, and dead zones are there to remind us that humanity cannot simply expect natural ecosystems to absorb our wastes without severe and often unexpected consequences.
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