Oil and the Dead Zone

As we all know, the BP Oil Drilling Disaster has happened at a particularly destructive time: Blue-fin Tuna are spawning in the area, dolphins are giving birth to their pup, Sperm Whales feed in the area, shore birds are nesting, etc., etc. Well, let’s add another man-made ecological disaster to layer upon the BP disaster: the Dead Zone. The Dead Zone, a 6000 square mile area along the Louisiana coast where low oxygen causes sea life to swim away or suffocate, has once again began to form due to pollution flowing down the Mississippi River. On top of this, over the past few weeks, we have heard more reports about suspended oil droplets well beneath the surface of the Gulf. Early reports have shown evidence of oil-water plumes up to 30 square miles and 300 feet thick looming in the depths of the Gulf. Some scientists are concerned that bacteria feeding on these plumes could further lower oxygen levels in the deep water. The combination of the submerged oil plumes and the Mississippi River could result in a massive Dead Zone that could extend well beyond it’s normal geographic area.Despite this looming Dead Zone “perfect storm,” BP has denied that the under-surface plumes even exist! To counter this, we should be demanding that NOAA and the Incident Command put more money towards independent research to evaluate the size, and more importantly, the impacts of the sub-sea plumes on the wildlife that live in the water column and on the sea floor.For more information on oil and the Dead Zone, NOAA has published a short fact sheet on the subject.Matt Rota is GRN’s Water Resources Program Director

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