U.S. Water News Online
SAN ANTONIO -- Fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are
threatened by loss of coastal wetlands and agricultural runoff, from
which a "dead zone" of oxygen-depleted water has grown, experts say.
To stop expansion of the 5,000-square-mile area where low oxygen
levels make it difficult for marine life to survive, studies show
that wetlands must be reclaimed and fertilizer use in the Mississippi
River basin cut by 25 percent, said Andrew Solow, a researcher at the
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Solow was one of five experts who addressed environmental
attorneys attending the first of two days of discussions at the Hyatt
Hill Country Resort.
Shrimp and fish can escape from the zone, which for the first time
this past summer stretched toward the Texas coast, Solow said. But he
said crabs and other slow-moving species can be killed in the area
where trillions of tiny sea plants called phytoplankton sink, die and
Meanwhile, marshes and wetlands that catch sediment and nutrients,
reducing nutrient-laden runoff, continue to shrink.
The Mississippi's delta-building process has stalled from decades
of engineering to straighten the river to make more land usable and
reduce flooding, said Len Bahr, director of the Louisiana Governor's
Applied Coastal Science Program.
"We're losing 200 million tons of sediment a year into the gulf,"
he told the San Antonio Express-News, adding: "we see an imminent
collapse (of gulf fisheries) if the coastal marshes keep pulling
Studies have not shown clear economic benefits that could prompt
politicians to act on perhaps-costly solutions to the problem of the
dead zone, a condition known scientifically as hypoxia, Solow said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced
a $1.2 million grant to Texas State University-San Marcos to develop
new molecular indicators for monitoring hypoxia and toxic chemicals
in coastal waters.
Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and
atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said the funds will be used to
"help create the tools needed to detect early indicators of nutrient
overload in our estuaries."
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