Monday, December 2, 2013

Dead Zones

    Algae blooms are typically green, red, or brown, and are slimy and smelly. Gigantic blooms have become an increasing problem all around the world. The blooms deprive the water and other organisms of vital nutrients and water before the die and rot. When this occurs, fish cannot survive the hypoxic and nutrient deprived conditions. This creates “dead zones.”  A large cause of the algal blooms is because of agriculture. Algae can multiply quickly in water where nitrogen and phosphorus are abundant, and these are the two prime nutrients we focus on when talking about agriculture runoff from fertilizers.
     Not only do algae blooms kill huge numbers of fish, but they also can cause a severe loss in tourist revenue if beaches have a reputation of being full of green slime. Real estate prices in areas with significant algae blooms have seen an extreme drop. Not only that, but every facet of the economy in summer residency areas feels the effects, from car washes to supermarkets. A conservative estimate of the yearly impact of algal blooms in the United States is $100 million, and that number only includes the ocean side of things, not freshwater, which are in the billions.
     A 10-year study of the Chesapeake Bay concluded this summer and found that algal blooms have been dramatically affecting the bottom feeding fish in the bay, causing wide-spread dead zones. These fish include croaker, white perch, spot, striper, and flounder. All of these fish are a key part of the bay’s ecosystem and a huge support of the commercial and recreational fisheries. The algae kill the bottom-dwelling invertebrates that these fish eat.
     While agriculture is an extremely important part of Pennsylvania’s and Maryland’s economy and history, these states have to find a way to get farming and fishing to work together. Both industries need to develop more sustainable strategies, so that the long run outcome is more desirable. Agriculture dumps a huge amount of fertilizers on the soil to meet the demands of the food industry, and the nutrients from these fertilizers ends up in places like the bay, causing the algae blooms. While meeting food demand is crucial, I do not believe sacrificing the entire bay’s ecosystem is worth it. Many people rely on the fisheries as their way of life, and the bay is a huge tourist and recreational attraction, as well a historical and important part of everyone in the watersheds life. Heavier control on fertilizer use and more regulations on having buffer zones on farms are necessary. Enforcement of policies is huge, because I do not believe most policies are properly enforced. For the fishing industry, over-harvesting needs to be addressed immediately. If the pollution of the bay and overfishing continue, soon there will be no fish left to harvest. If the problem of algae blooms, as well as the numerous other problems with pollution and water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay, is not properly addressed, the fishing industry on the bay will eventually collapse completely.
--Rachel McCloskey

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