Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Coastal Dead Zones and the hairless primate

Map showing coastal dead zones. Map also showing range of hairless primate responsible for the dead zones.

Just when you thought all you had to worry about was terrorism, global warming, a new Cold War, economic recession, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, falling home prices, a failing health care system, and John McCain in the Oval Office butchering a Beach Boys song with his finger on the nuclear button as Cindy looks on in a Stepford wife daze smiling. I have one more item to fill you with cheer, at least if you have had your happy pills prescription filled and been doing your modern American duty and been taking them like good sheep.

In my last post I lamented how uncontrolled and careless development has wrecked much of the environment and the way of life of the southeast coastal areas. I also touched on how in the bizarre, at least to me, desire to imitate old English country estates huge amounts of fertilizer is used to keep those lawns nice and green. But the question never really seems to be asked by those using all that stuff is where does all those chemicals go once it has seeped down into the ground? The answer is the coastal waters that act as the base of the food chain and a nursery to much aquatic life we eat. That's right folks, those juicy shrimp you ate Red Lobster a few days ago just didn't materialize in their freezer but had to be born and develop in coastal waters. But with everything the United States already faces why should we be worried about just a bunch of little fishes and crustaceans? Well writing strictly from a bias point of view if the biospheres of the coastal waters collapse the ripple effect will move up the food chain to the hairless primate whose environment is an easy chair in front of the huge LCD screen mounted on the wall watching television. Maybe once something effects that primate's lifestyle beyond material goods like the SUV, the McMansion, or easy credit he or she might just pay some attention. But by that time it will be too late.

"Dead Zones" Multiplying Fast, Coastal Water Study Says
Anne Minardfor National Geographic News
August 14, 2008

"Dead zones" are on the rise, says a new study that identified stark growth in the number of coastal areas where the water has too little oxygen to sustain marine life. There are now more than 400 known dead zones in coastal waters worldwide, compared to 305 in the 1990s, according to study author Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Those numbers are up from 162 in the 1980s, 87 in the 1970s, and 49 in the 1960s, Diaz said. In the 1910s, four dead zones had been identified.Diaz and co-author Rutger Rosenberg, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said in a press release that dead zones are now "the key stressor on marine ecosystems" and "rank with overfishing, habitat loss, and harmful algal blooms as global environmental problems."Their study appears in the August 15 issue of the journal Science.Dead ZonesDead zones occur when excess nutrients—usually nitrogen and phosphorus—from agriculture or the burning of fossil fuels seep into the water system and fertilize blooms of algae along the coast.As the microscopic plants die and sink to the ocean floor, they feed bacteria, which consume dissolved oxygen from surrounding waters. This limits oxygen availability for bottom-dwelling organisms and the fish that eat them.(Related story: "Ocean Dead Zones Growing; May Be Linked to Warming" [May 1, 2008])Many marine ecosystems experience low oxygen levels between spring and fall, Diaz said. But the lack of oxygen becomes persistent if nutrient levels stay high.Earth's largest dead zone, in the Baltic Sea, experiences oxygen deprivation year-round, the press release said. The second largest dead zone surrounds the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite decades of efforts to clean up U.S. rivers and lakes, high nitrogen levels are currently combining with strong water flow to make that dead zone larger than it has ever been.Government-supported scientists not involved with Diaz's review are forecasting an expansion of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone to a record 8,800 square miles (23,000 square kilometers), an area larger than New Jersey. (Related story: "Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone" Is Size of New Jersey" [May 25, 2005])Nancy Rabalais, executive director and professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, said the paper "shows that there is a lot of lost production of [seafloor] animals—those living in the sediments—that could be food" for fishery stocks. Diaz and Rosenberg note in the press release that dead zones tend to be overlooked until they start to affect organisms that people eat. Mixed EffortsSome local and regional governments have stepped in with conservation and cleanup efforts to combat dead zones.Maryland, for instance, gives $18 million a year in grants to farmers who plant additional crops after their harvest to absorb leftover fertilizer before it ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. Rabalais, who was not involved in the Diaz review, said she has seen little sustained effort to combat nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River. "In the recent years of increased acreage of corn and biofuels, the amount of fertilizer used and the amount of nitrogen per volume of Mississippi River water has increased dramatically," Rabalais said. "What we have is this pulse of nutrients that are coming down our rivers every year," Diaz added. "Somehow we have to find a way to stop that. "The loss of fertilizer is an economic drain on the industry. It is not something the farming community wants to happen, and controlling it is the key to controlling the spread of dead zones."


enigma4ever said...

great put you in my Blog Round up this am...and I am glad that I did....

I will be back..have to walk the doglet...;-)

Beach Bum said...

Engima4ever: Looking at it this way if we kill off all the coastal life with fertilizer drilling for oil off the coast won't be that bad.

Mike said...

Maybe that is the intention. Kill the coast and make it safe for drilling.

Stella said...

So sad: the dying plant and animal life on Pacific coast.

There are more articles at and an article at Reuters "o test for water pollution by "listening" to what the plants growing in water have to say."

Oregon discovered depleting oxygen levels in 2002. [The Environmental News Services ENS is a good source.]

Mike, you know, you could be right. But, I think the coast may already be dead—like so must else about our country.

A very eye-opening article, beach. Thank you for a thoughtful post.

Leigh said...

Interesting and alarming post. You are so right, it is quite scary....and this goes hand in hand with your post on commercialism and runoff with that. I wish people werent as greedy and could appreciate a more natual state of life.

Beach Bum said...

Mike: Except that Bush/Cheney will take their clans down to South America to their property down there and ride out the worst of the storm.

Stella and Leigh: Ain't modern civilization wonderful? At least until the bill comes due and our kids will have to bear the blunt of our mistakes.

Distributorcap said...

i read about this ... thanks for making me even more scared

dont people care at all about their kids - and making sure they have a planet to live on -- i guess not. i have a 'friend' who basically says we strip everything from this planet to make our current life as good as possible -- plant and animal life - who cares!

scary thing is i think this will be a problem in our life time, not our grandkids

Beach Bum said...

DCap: As I was making my rounds to Randal's site he had a link over to another site called Zaius Nation in which the honorable simian is quoted saying: "Man is a menace, a walking pestilence." which about sums up the situation. Also another science fiction show I can't remember all that well called humans a virus. Seems our best talent is destruction sometimes with torture and tyranny running a close second and third. I seriously worry sometimes that the planet will one day somehow shrug us away like the fleas we can be.

Randal Graves said...

It's a shame that the topics most vital to the survival of life on this planet are the least sexy in the media's narrative. Out of sight, out of mind.

Stella said...

Hi Beach—the following goes along with your sentiments about the "hairless primate." I apologize for the length, but this quote nicely sums everything up for me. I admire your common sense.

He was perfectly astonished with the historical Account I gave him of our Affairs during the last Century, protesting it was only a Heap of Conspiracies, Rebellions, Murders, Massacres, Revolutions, Banishments, the very worst Effects that Avarice, Faction, Hypocrisy, Perfidiousness, Cruelty, Rage, Madness, Hatred, Envy, Lust, Malice, or Ambition could produce.

His Majesty in another Audience was at the Pains to recapitulate the Sum of all I had spoken, compared the Questions he made with the Answers I had given; then taking me into his Hands, and stroaking me gently, delivered himself in these Words, which I shall never forget nor the Manner he spoke them in: My little Friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable Panegyric upon your Country: You have clearly proved that Ignorance, Idleness, and Vice may be sometimes the only Ingredients for qualifying a Legislator: That Laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose Interest and Abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some Lines of an Institution, which in its Original might have been tolerable, but these half erazed, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by Corruptions. It doth not appear from all you have said, how any one Virtue is required towards the Procurement of any one Station among you, much less that Men are ennobled on Account of their Virtue, that Priests are advanced for their Piety or Learning, Soldiers for their Conduct or Valour, Judges for their Integrity, Senators for the Love of their Country, or Counsellors for their Wisdom. As for yourself, (continued the King,) who have spent the greatest Part of your Life in Travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many Vices of your Country. But by what I have gathered from your own Relation, and the Answers I have with much Pain wringed and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.

~~Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels, 1729
Book II, Ch. 6

Beach Bum said...

Randal: How true, while many of a less than stable mind have repeated the claim we stand at the edge of an abyss over many issue to the point the media has grown deaf that doesn't excuse the fact that at our actions will at some point jump up and bite us on our collective asses.

Stella: Feel free to post any comment of any length you want here. Still, I find myself hoping and praying that our species vaulted intelligence will at some point kick in.

Stella said...

If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.
~~Mark Twain

But, like you beach, I keep hoping for change.

MadMike said...

When evolution made man it made its greatest mistake. This mistake will be corrected given time, a lot of time unfortunately.

Beach Bum said...

Stella and MadMike: If it wasn't for my kids I would find some hideaway and watch the human comedy and just laugh.

Anonymous said...

Great post...
Thanks for sharing......

60+ Premium movies and sports channel