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Heavy dead zone predicted in Gulf of Mexico

The St. Lucie River in Stuart, Fla., shown here in July 2016, is undergoing it’s fourth toxic algae bloom since 2005 and third since 2013. Photo by Ed Killer.

The St. Lucie River in Stuart, Fla., shown here in July 2016, is undergoing it’s fourth toxic algae bloom since 2005 and third since 2013. Photo by Ed Killer.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico — the area of oxygen-depleted water off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas that endangers sea life — is predicted to be the second-largest on record this summer, according to USA Today.

This year's zone should be about 8,717 square miles, an area roughly the size of New Hampshire, researchers at Louisiana State University said, according to the newspaper. The Washington Post said researches said the size of the dead zone could be as large as the state of New Jersey.

The average Gulf dead zone is about 5,309 square miles; the record is 8,776 square miles set in 2017.

Dead zones, also known as hypoxia, are created by nutrient runoff. The heavy rain that has fallen on fertilizer-enriched farmland, causing flooding along the Mississippi River, will eventually find its way south, according to The Washington Post.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, fueled by the nutrient-laden water spilling from the mouth of the Mississippi River, is the second largest in the world. It blooms every summer, when warming waters accelerate the metabolisms of microorganisms, and is expected to get even worse as the climate continues to change.

Ryan Bradley, executive director for Mississippi Commerical Fisheries United, a nonprofit that supports the state’s fishermen, plans to travel to Washington D.C. this month to ask lawmakers to declare a fisheries disaster.

One study published in 2017 noted how the dead zone affects Gulf Coast shrimpers by driving down the price of shrimp and reducing profit for local businesses, according to National Geographic.

A University of Iowa study last year showed that nitrogen pollution flowing out of the state contributed an additional 47 percent to Gulf of Mexico dead zones, spiking to 618 million pounds in 2016.

Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa’s Institute of Hydraulic Research Hydroscience and Engineering Center, who authored the study, told the Des Moines Register at the time that the state hasn’t made progress over the past 20 years in terms of nitrogen.

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