March 30, 2004

Rapid Growth of "Dead Zones" in Oceans Threatens Planet

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Agence France Press: The spread of oxygen-starved
"dead zones" in the oceans, a graveyard for fish and
plant life, is emerging as a threat to the health of
the planet, experts say. For hundreds of millions of
people who depend on seas and oceans for their
livelihoods, and for many more who rely on a diet of
fish and seafood to survive, the problem is acute.

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http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0329-01.htm

Published on Monday, March 29, 2004 by the Agence
France Presse
Rapid Growth of "Dead Zones" in Oceans Threatens Planet

JEJU, South Korea - The spread of oxygen-starved "dead
zones" in the oceans, a graveyard for fish and plant
life, is emerging as a threat to the health of the
planet, experts say. For hundreds of millions of
people who depend on seas and oceans for their
livelihoods, and for many more who rely on a diet of
fish and seafood to survive, the problem is acute.

Some of the oxygen-deprived zones are relatively
small, less than one square kilometer (0.4 square
miles) in size. Others are vast, measuring more than
70,000 square kilometers.


Global distribution of oxygen-depleted coastal zones.
The 146 zones shown are associated with either
majorpopulation concentrations or with watersheds that
deliver large quantities of nutrients to coastal
waters. (Annual yearly events related to summer or
autumnal stratification; Episodic events occurring
at irregular intervals greater than one year; Periodic
events occurring at regular intervals shorter than
one year; Persistent all-year-round hypoxia)

Pollution, particularly the overuse of nitrogen in
fertilizers, is responsible for the spread of dead
zones, environment ministers and experts from more
than 100 countries were told.

The number of known oxygen-starved areas has doubled
since 1990 to nearly 150, according to the UN
Environmental Program (UNEP), holding is annual
conference here.

"What is clear is that unless urgent action is taken
to tackle the sources of the problem, it is likely to
escalate rapidly," UNEP executive director Klaus
Toepfer said.

"Hundreds of millions of people depend on the marine
environment for food, for their livelihoods and for
their cultural fulfillment."

The world at present gets 17 percent of its animal
protein from fish, UN figures show.

That supply is now endangered on at least two fronts:
overfishing that has depleted stocks in recent decades
and now the challenge of widening dead zones.

The issue was identified as a key emerging problem in
the Global Environment Year Book 2003, a health report
on the planet released at the start of the UNEP's
three-day conference that concludes Wednesday.

The spread of low-level oxygen zones in seas and
oceans, identified as early as in the 1960s, is
closely related to the overuse of fertilizers in
agriculture, whose main ingredient is nitrogen.

On land, nitrogen boosts plant growth. But when it
washes into the sea in rivers and rainwater overrun,
it triggers an explosive bloom of algae.

When these tiny plants growing on the ocean surface
sink to the bottom and decompose, they use up all the
oxygen and suffocate other marine life.

Fossil fuel waste from motor vehicles and power plants
increases nitrogen content in oceans.

With oxygen depletion, fish, oysters and other marine
life eventually die out along with important habitats
such as sea grass beds.

Relatively large zones are found in the Gulf of
Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay off the US East Coast, the
Baltic and Black seas, and parts of the Adriatic.

Others have appeared off South America, Japan, China,
Australia and New Zealand. Some zones are permanent,
while other occur annually or intermittently.

Most of the 160 million tons of nitrogen used as
fertilizer annually ends up in the sea.

UNEP said efforts should focus on cutting back on
overuse of nitrogen to bring the seas back to life.

With a joint accord, European states within the Rhine
River basin successfully cut the amount of nitrogen
entering the North Sea by 37 percent between 1985 and
2000, it said.

The UNEP advocates planting of more forests and
grasslands to soak up excess nitrogen and better
sewage treatment.

Its conference is the first ever held in Asia with
more than 100 ministers and high-level officials
attending from 155 countries.

Copyright 2004 AFP

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Posted by richard at March 30, 2004 03:21 PM