Volume XI, Issue 33 ~ August 14-20, 2003

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<Bay Reflections>
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<Sky and Sea>
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Attack of the Blob: Will Nearly “Dead Zone” Enliven Chesapeake Restoration?

Reports last week of deteriorating Bay conditions were troubling indeed.

Researchers documented a 100-mile zone of water so devoid of oxygen it could barely support aquatic life.

The oxygen-depleted waters are due to runoff from poultry farms, outmoded sewage treatment plants and those magic-grow concoctions that people dump on their gardens and lawns. All the rain this year has compounded the effects of our chemical carelessness, producing algae blooms that use up oxygen and threaten all living things.

A digression: A few years ago, we motored out into the middle of one of the world’s biggest dead zones, a 9,000-square-mile swath of dead water in the Gulf of Mexico. We were aboard the research vessel Acadiana with some of the world’s leading marine researchers.

Mischievous as usual, we spotted a fishing rod, attached a piece of shrimp and dropped it in the dead zone. Pow. In seconds, a fine sheepshead was on the line.

The point here is not to debunk the notion of a dead zone but to tell you what they are.

Picture a parfait from the ice-cream shop. The oxygen-deprived — hypoxic — water exists in layers at various depths. With our piece of shrimp, we were lucky to find life at a certain depth. But divers told us that on the ocean floor where we moored everything was dead, even the worms.

That’s essentially what we’re seeing here: blobs of hypoxic bad water throughout nearly half of the Bay.

We write about our experience to give you the bigger picture. In the Gulf, the Mississippi River is delivering pollution from nitrogen runoff in the Midwest, where farmers apply roughly 150 pounds of fertilizer for every acre of corn.

Along the Louisiana coast, we talked to many shrimpers who were selling their boats and to fishermen who had all but given up.

Do we want to take these risks with our smaller and shallower Chesapeake?

In the realm of the absurd, we read where the Eastern Shore poultry industry last week asked Gov. Robert Ehrlich to make new pollution rules voluntary rather than the law.

We’d see this as a bad joke if we didn’t know that Ehrlich has declared on several occasions that his sentiments lie with the farmers.

Of course, the problem is bigger than a gaggle of greedy chicken growers. Are you ready to give up those miracle chemicals and wait an extra week or two for tomatoes to ripen?

Are we all ready to pitch in to fight The Blob?



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Last updated August 14, 2003 @ 1:17am