Gulf 'dead zone' area over 6500 sq miles, oil spill impact unclear: Experts

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Washington, June 29 (ANI): Experts claim that the Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone' is expected to be between 6,500 and 7,800 square miles, an area roughly the size of Lake Ontario.

The 2010 forecast, released today by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), would make it the Gulf's 10th-largest oxygen-starved, or hypoxic, region on record.

It is unclear what impact, if any, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will have on the size of this year's Gulf dead zone because numerous factors are at work, the researchers say.

"We're not certain how this will play out. But one fact is clear: The combination of summer hypoxia and toxic-oil impacts on mortality, spawning and recruitment is a one-two punch that could seriously diminish valuable Gulf commercial and recreational fisheries," said Scavia, Special Counsel to the U-M President for Sustainability, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, and a professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Every year, farmland and livestock waste flow into the Gulf, causing algae growth. When these algae die and sink, bottom-dwelling bacteria decompose the organic matter, consuming oxygen in the process - resulting in the dead zone.

This year, depending on the oil spill extent, the spill could either extend or restrict the dead zone.

"The growth of these dead zones is an ecological time bomb. Without determined local, regional and national efforts to control them, we are putting major fisheries at risk," Scavia said.

Hypoxia is of particular concern because it threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries. In 2008, the dockside value of commercial fisheries was 659 million dollars.

The 24 million fishing trips taken in 2008 by more than 3 million recreational fishers further contributed well over 1 billion dollars to the Gulf economy, according to NOAA. (ANI)

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