It was two years ago that I first wrote about ocean dead zones. These are areas of the ocean that, due to a lack of oxygen, no longer sustain any life. While dead zones can happen naturally, they usually are caused by the results of human activity. A primary cause is nitrogen-rich nutrients from agricultural fertilizers that flow into coastal waters from rivers and streams.
Last week there was a report published in the Journal of Science that stated that the number of these ocean dead zones around the world has doubled every decade since the 1960s. There are now some 400 coastal areas that periodically or perpetually become dead due to oxygen starved bottom waters.
While the size of these dead zones is small relative to the total surface of the oceans, they account for a significant percentage of ocean waters that support commercial shellfish and fish species. This is due to the fact that these zones occur in areas that have historically been prime fishing grounds since these grounds are close to dense human populations.
In recent years there have been consistent dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, the Baltic Sea, the coastal areas of China and even the Kattegat Sea where the Norwegian lobster industry has been decimated.. There is now a regular dead zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest that was mentioned in the column two years ago.
The developing problem with these dead zones is that over time entire species are killed off. Additionally, they are preventing the rebound of many species that are under protection due to over fishing. We have over fished the oceans and are now creating dead zones on the coasts of all continents.
We humans know that all life comes from the ocean. That was where life first began on this glorious planet. We have often referred to ourselves as the highest form of life on this planet. How can we think of ourselves in such a manner if we are allowing our behavior and sloppy use of fertilizer to start to kill the cradle of life?
We have often referred to our planet as Planet Earth. That is because we are land animals. Actually, with oceans covering close to 70% of the surface of the planet, a better name would be Planet Ocean. We know how we have polluted and damaged the land on which we live. We are now doing the same to the 70% of the planet where we don’t live.
We need to immediately start to do whatever is necessary to stop damaging the oceans and the life forms that live there. We need to treat the oceans as our connection to survival. I have only half jokingly suggested that humanity should declare a year moratorium on eating seafood. Would you stop eating sushi and seafood for a year and refuse to eat food grown with nitrate fertilizers if the survival of your children and grandchildren depended upon it?