Dead Zones & Plastics Still A Problem In Our Oceans

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The clock is ticking as environmental groups and federal agencies are working to save endangered parts our oceans. Two of the biggest trouble spots that are getting lots of attention are the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone” and the other is the retrieval of tons of plastics accumulating on the North Pacific Ocean.

According to an article by the Herald Tribune on Tuesday, the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico shrunk to a total area of 6,000 square miles over the past year, but the problem is not going away. Federal agencies hope to shrink the zone to 2,000 miles by 2015, if they’re able to control the amount of chemical and nutrient pollution that creates the problem.

“The size this year seems to be a little bit smaller, but clearly there is still a lot to be concerned about,” said Suzanne Schwartz, acting director of the Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds for the Environmental Protection Agency. “The dead zone continues to be a problem locally, regionally and nationally

Schwartz said the federal government is increasing efforts to combat the dead zone, focusing attention on nutrient pollution and considering stricter enforcement of water quality standards through the Clean Water Act.”

The Dead Zone off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is the biggest in the world. The DZ is a low-oxygen area caused by the pollution carried by the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. Several major rivers from the East and Midwest of the country connect to the Mississippi, bringing with them their own portion of the pollution. Those rivers include the Ohio River, the Missouri River, and the Red River. The Dead Zone spanned over 8,000 square miles in 2002.

Meanwhile, on the Pacific Ocean, environmental groups are trying to raise cash to buy ships and retrieve 3.5 million tons of plastic that has accumulated near the North Pacific Ocean. According to the Environmental Group Coalition, a non-profit organization with a mission to clean up the human-created mess, the need is urgent.

Scientists have shown that the plastic debris accumulation in the ocean, concentrating in vortexes called gyres, is negatively impacting life on the planet. Birds, turtles and fish are dying from eating plastic. Toxins are collecting in and around plastic particles and are making their way up the food chain, eventually harming human health.

EGC says that there are land-based mitigation programs to make people aware of their own waste, but that a large-scale clean up is needed as well. Some 10 vessels would get the work done over a period of time. There is some doubt that such an effort can work, but the group is pressing on.

The ships will be specially designed to drift net or otherwise pull trash out of the ocean, to filter ocean water of impurities and to process the salvaged plastic into useable products. Gyre Island will house a sea vegetable production farm where algae, seaweed and kelp are grown as a food crop, and a marine fish hatchery that will release 10,000 tuna into the Pacific Ocean.

Further reading:

  • Gyre Cleanup
  • What is a Dead Zone?
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