Death can approach silently in the oceans, invisibly. Since the 1960s, an uncanny phenomenon has been spreading exponentially in the coastal areas of the oceans known as the dead zones. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous are often discharged into the water near inhabited coastlines, largely released from wastewater and fertiliziers used in agriculture. This nutrient input promotes the growth of algae, seaweed, and cyanobacteria. Excessive growth is known as algal bloom, and is often visible as a result of the discoloration it causes. This rapid growth, or rather the decomposition of dead algae by bacteria, consumes the oxygen in the surrounding water, leading to hypoxia. Fish, like most other marine organisms, cannot survive under these conditions. Their options are either to flee, or to die a horrible death. One of the world’s largest dead zones appears every year in the Gulf of Mexico. The waters there are polluted by fertilizers from the meat industry that flow down the Mississippi river. Tyson Foods, a supplier of McDonalds and Walmart, is one of the biggest polluters in the USA. The company generated 55 million tons of manure in 2016 and discharged 104 million pounds of pollutants into the ocean between 2010-2014. A multitude of lawsuits have been filed against Tyson for illegally discharging slaughterhouse waste and untreated manure directly into waterways.
The animation demonstrates the impact these industries have, not only on the ocean and its marine life, but also on the human population. It highlights our own dependency on functioning ecosystems, and the destructive influence our activities can have when they are only aimed at maximum profit.
Sources: Diaz, Robert and Rutger Rosenberg, “Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Ecosystems”, Science 321, (2008).
von Reusner, Lucia, “Mystery Meat II: The Industry Behind the Quiet Destruction of the American Heartland”, Mighty Earth, (2017).