Scientists recently surveyed the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico around Louisiana and Texas and they discovered a larger-than-average area of oxygen-depleted water – a “dead zone” where nothing can live. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists have announced their recent findings. The dead zone has grown to 4 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, which are now unusable for fish and bottom-dwelling species.
But the Gulf isn’t the only coastal region experiencing a dead zone this summer. This was a record year for the dead zone in the waters just offshore from the Oregon coast as well. In Oregon, the global climate crisis is making the problem worse because the ocean is warming, and warmer waters hold less oxygen than cold waters, encouraging the growth of dead zones. In addition, as more carbon is absorbed into the oceans, the waters become more acidic – in turn making it harder for creatures like shellfish and crabs to grow their shells. All this amounts to “a double whammy” for the Oregon coastline. The result is another deadzone almost 5,000 square miles in size!
The meat industry is being blamed for both these dead zones. Animals wastes make their way to the coast through runoff into our rivers and streams. The pollutants come both directly from animals as manure, and also from the crop farms that produce the vast amounts of feed necessary to feed the many millions of animals raised for meat – 70% of all the crops raised in the United States go to feed farm animals. Included in this runoff are not only plant matter and eroded soil, but also the fertilizers used to grow the crops.
So let’s put it all together. The runoff from animal wastes, and the fertilizers used to grow their feed, are sucking up the oxygen. Global warming, whose prime driver is raising meat, makes it harder for the warmed water to hold the oxygen, and the carbon we’re pumping into the oceans is making them more acidic, resulting in a further loss of sea life. The result of all this is giant dead zones.
However, if we all followed a plant-based diet, we could be subtracting all these factors rather than adding them, and a healthy thriving aquatic ecosystem could result.