The Gulf of Mexico's dead zone shrank this year. New data released yesterday show that the sea area off Louisiana's Mississippi River delta containing low or no oxygen covered just 4400 square kilometers in July, down from 1999's record-breaking 20,000 square kilometers.
The zone, within which fish, shrimp, and other animals suffocate if they can't flee, has averaged about 16,000 square kilometers since 1993, notes dead zone mapper Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The shrinkage this year is due to spring drought conditions in the Mississippi Basin, which reduced the nutrient flows that fuel algal blooms in the gulf.
The news comes as government officials put the final touches on a plan to choke off the dead zone by reducing fertilizer runoff and other pollutants along the Mississippi.