Another spring is once again here, and with it comes longer daylight hours, beautiful weather, some light showers - and a dramatic size increase in the dead zones that line our shores.
An increase in sunlight and milder temperatures means that growing conditions become even better for the algae that live in coastal waters, causing a rise in algal blooms like the one pictured here. Fertilizer runoff from agricultural land washes downstream, and when it empties into the oceans and lakes nearby, the algae feast on it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. When they die, they drop to the bottom and other microbes feed on them and consume oxygen in the process. That is what causes hypoxia, a lack of waterborne oxygen along the shore.
While the cause of the problem stems mainly from our farming practices, the farmers themselves would really rather that the fertilizer stay in the soil rather than washing away. However, it does find its way into waterways, lakes, and oceans, and the algal blooms get larger and kill off bottom-dwelling sea life every year.
This problem has been known, researched, and documented for decades, and one would think that some of it could have been mitigated by now. Instead, what has happened is that people have become accustomed to accepting this as a "normal" process. While there are normal algal blooms and even total dead zones created by nature, choosing to increase that number dramatically by artificial means is totally irresponsible and unnecessary.
Farming in this country has gone to a massive scale. With factory farms replacing the smaller family farm, environmental issues have just gotten bigger and less manageable. The large corporations that own these factory farms have deeper pockets, and carry more political clout than ever before.
Much of the coastline in the eastern United States is severely affected, as is the Gulf Coast in the southeast, and the Baltic Sea in Europe. Some areas within these regions are devoid of life throughout the year. There, the dead zones do not have a chance of any natural recovery unless we can stop pouring so much runoff into the oceans. The increase in size and range of these dead areas along the coast is slowly and steadily killing off the variety of sea life that we depend on for food.
It seems somewhat ironic that our increases in agriculture would in turn destroy some of the healthiest food sources that mankind has. A diet rich in cold water, deep sea fish is less fatty, contains better quality protein, and provides an anti-inflammatory agent - Omega-3s - that are extremely beneficial for your heart, skin, and brain.
Instead, we and our factory-farmed animals are fed a corn-based diet that is fueled by the agricultural industry; an industry that has hijacked the way that food is produced. As a result, we have collectively put on too much weight and suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and increased cancer risk; conditions that could be prevented with a more balanced and varied diet.
Many environmental groups have pled with the EPA to step in and do more to prevent the large-scale runoff from getting out of control, but the only real change will happen when these large industries are taken to task by the government. Regulations for fertilizer dispersal and containment, and a turn away from chemical nutrients on large-scale farms are the only things that will give the seas enough time to recoup, and allow the return of sea life to our coastlines.