This year's Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone' forecast larger than city of Houston

Photo courtesy: NOAA
Photo courtesy: NOAA

SAN ANTONIO – A "dead zone" is an area of low oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are forecasting the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone to be around 5,780 square miles.

That is approximately the size of Connecticut -- larger than the city of Houston.

According to NOAA, the size of the dead zone is about average, compared to the last 33 years. 

The largest measured dead zone, which occurred in 2017, grew to 8,776 square miles. 

According to NOAA, the dead zone is still three times larger than the long-term target set by the Interagency Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force, a group charged with reducing the size of the dead zone in the Gulf. 

Dead zones, which can occur naturally, are enhanced by human activities in the watershed, that result in the overgrowth of algae. That algae sinks and decomposes in the water, resulting in low oxygen levels that cannot support marine life.

"The Gulf’s recurring summer hypoxic zone continues to put important habitats and valuable fisheries at risk," Dr. Steve Thur, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said. "Although there has been some progress in reducing nutrients, the overall levels remain high and continue to strain the region’s coastal economies."

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