Marine Dead Zones Threaten Life In The Oceans

The Gulf of Oman is the latest in a line of growing dead zones that are becoming a serious concern. Marine dead zones are large oxygen-depleted areas, where marine life has difficulty surviving. They may occur naturally in deep water, but their increase in size and number across the planet are largely due to chemical fertilizers, climate change, and wastewater.

Oman is just the latest in a sea of water bodies that are being reported to have dead zones. Many areas including the Indian Ocean, the Baltic Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico have seen a recent increase in dead zones. This has caused concerns among scientists as they cannot sustain marine life, and are a source of greenhouse gases.

Marine Dead Zones
Without oxygen, dead zones cannot sustain marine life

Though scientists have known about the zone for over 50 years, they have only recently been able to study it due to the conflict in the region. Underwater robots were sent to the marine dead zone in the Gulf of Oman. They found that it covered almost 165,000 square kilometers, an area larger than Scotland.

Marine Dead Zones Are a Disaster Waiting to Happen

Dr. Bastien Queste from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia was part of this research team. He says that “Our research shows that the situation is actually worse than feared and that the area of dead zone is vast and growing. The ocean is suffocating. Of course, all fish, marine plants and other animals need oxygen, so they can’t survive there. It’s a real environmental problem, with dire consequences for humans too who rely on the oceans for food and employment.”

Marine Dead Zones
The Mississippi River carries agricultural runoff into the Gulf of Mexico choking it with nitrogen and phosphorus

Earlier this year, scientists warned that the number marine dead zones have increased 10-fold since the 1950s. Over 500 zones have been reported globally.  These zones are also expanding due to both climate change and agricultural runoff that choke it with nitrogen and phosphorus which feed oxygen-greedy algae.

Dead zones are “a disaster waiting to happen,” and yet very few steps are being taken to reduce the impact we have on these areas of the ocean. They are a reminder of the toll pollution can have on the natural world.

Unless humans are able to curb the growth of marine dead zones, there is a real fear that we may be on the brink of a mass extinction.


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