Post the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of NOAA-supported scientists is forecasting that the “dead zone” off the coast of Louisiana and Texas in the Gulf of Mexico this summer could be one of the largest on record. The dead zone is an area in the Gulf of Mexico where seasonal oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters. Dead zones are normally caused by nutrient runoff, principally from agricultural activity, which stimulates an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes, and consumes most of the life-giving oxygen supply in the water. NOAA is restricting fishing for a minimum of ten days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay (map attached). The closure is effective immediately.
Workers are currently building a coffer dam in an attempt to capture the streaming oil slick but south Louisiana resident are braced all the same for the worst hit on their fishing economy in decades.
The spill heading down the Gulf from Alaska is reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez spill which is said to have given Alaskans first hand knowledge on handling of these disasters. More US states are bracing for impact by the seeping oil.
NOAA’s Fisheries Service today announced an emergency rule to protect threatened sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The temporary rule, which takes effect May 18, will require the commercial reef fish longline fleet to fish seaward of a line approximating the 50-fathom contour in the Gulf of Mexico. Current regulations require this fleet to fish seaward of 20-fathoms. In the light of the current ecological situation this new rule seems a little tardy.
There are an estimated 445 species of fish, 45 species of mammals, 32 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 134 species of birds under threat from the impact of this spill, including the North Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, and five of the world’s seven sea turtle species. The grassbeds south of the Chandeleur Islands are very close to the oil spill. These grasses are a known nursing area for a number of shark species, which are now beginning their spawning season in the Gulf. Whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, feed on plankton at the surface of the water and could also be affected. A resident pod of sperm whales in the spill area could be at risk along with piggy sperm whales, porpoises and dolphins. Louisiana’s state bird, the Brown pelican nests on barrier islands and feeds near shore.