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Jun 6, 2011 11:22 PM by Maddie Garrett

Largest-Ever Gulf Dead Zone Predicted This Summer

As the threat of flooding dwindles, a new threat rises to the surface: All of that excess water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.

2011 was supposed to be a good year for shrimpers, hoping to regain some of the revenue lost last year after the BP oil spill. But with the May shrimping season well underway, their freezers sit empty and it's all because of the Mississippi flood waters and what's being dumped into the Gulf.

"We were doing ok, but really have seen, since the freshwater came in, the shrimp are leaving, going to deeper waters," said Cheryl Granger.

An excess of freshwater flowing into the coastal zones has started pushing the shrimp farther away from local fishermen like Cheryl Granger and her husband Al. Leaving their once full freezers empty.

But the extra water brings another problem: More fertilizers, pesticides and other nutrients from the flooded farmlands.

"When you get excessive nutrients, you get excessive algae. Those algae sink to the bottom, consume oxygen thus the Dead Zone," said Dr. Robert Twilley, Vice President of Research at UL.

The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone isn't new to Louisiana, but this year scientists predict it could be the worst ever. It's predicted to be 5% to 10% larger than the largest Dead Zone to date, which was in 2002 and spanned 8,500 square miles

"We have a lot of nutrients coming down the river right now from the farmlands and those nutrients are getting into our coastal zone with the fresh water and will most likely stimulate high levels of hypoxia that we'll see in the summer," said Dr. Twilley.

To add to the situation, Twilley said the levees that spared us from the floods actually guide those high nutrient waters straight into the gulf, by-passing wetlands that would normally absorb the fresh water and fertilizers.

The bottom line: Excessive freshwater means trouble for local shrimpersright now; and excessive nutrients could have even worse consequences for shrimpers further out in the Gulf later this summer.

"This season right here, not good. We're just praying for the fall season to be good," said Granger.

The shrimping season could turn around in August. And an active tropical storm season could actually stir up the waters enough to reduce the Dead Zone and disperse the fresh water.

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