A new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters revealed there is a massive dead zone in the Arabian Sea, and it is the largest in the world. The zone in the Gulf of Oman is now around the size of Florida, which is much larger than researchers expected, but what is more disturbing is the fact that it is still growing.
Dead zones are areas of the ocean with oxygen levels so low that they can no longer support marine life. Such zones devoid of life emerge in ocean depths ranging from 650 to 2,600 feet, Live Science reports. They are typically formed by influxes of chemical nutrients – such as nitrogen – that result in the explosion of algae blooms in the water. The algae easily grows out of control and sucks up available oxygen, in some cases it can also be toxic, causing further pollution and damage.
The dead zone in the Gulf of Oman has been growing for decades, but it was last surveyed in the 1990s. Having recently returned to the site, researchers in partnership with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University found the zone to be expanded far more than expected. The change was much bigger than it was predicted by existing computer models.
“The ocean is suffocating,” said study lead author Bastien Queste, a marine biogeochemist and research fellow with the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia. “All fish, marine plants and other animals need oxygen, so they can’t survive there.”
The researchers emphasize that although the problem very directly affects marine life, it is also not at all without consequence for humans. “It’s a real environmental problem, with dire consequences for humans, too, who rely on the oceans for food and employment,” Queste said.
The dramatic expansion raises serious questions about the future of local ecosystems as well as fisheries. According to Queste, the accelerated oxygen loss could partly be explained by climate change, since warmer ocean water near the sea surface hampers the retention and circulation of oxygen.
It was previously believed that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest in the world, but this new finding represents the sad reality that our impact on the environment is farther reaching than we might realize. In the case of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, a study from 2017 found runoff from animal agriculture is largely to blame for the excess nutrients that caused the bloom. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that animals raised for food produce around 335 million tons of manure per year. If a farm does not have a treatment system to handle that amount of waste (which most do not), the nutrients from the manure end up in groundwater or surface water, from where they travel to the ocean – creating dead zones. This toxic runoff from farms can also cause serious public health issues, such as Blue Baby Syndrome.
Aside from the nutrient input, dead zones are also exacerbated by climate change as warmer waters tend to hold less oxygen. Again, the meat industry plays a colossal part here. Industrial animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, were as the Worldwatch Institute estimates that it could be as much as 51 percent.
Although they do not seem connected at first, the health of the oceans and our dietary choices are very connected – which means that we can all contribute to making a difference by starting with what is on our plates!
To learn more about how you can help heal the planet with your diet, check out the Eat For The Planet book!