Gulf Conference Aimed at Reducing Dead Zone

New Orleans, La. – Public officials in the Gulf of Mexico Alliance are working with scientists on how to coordinate policies that will improve the health of the Gulf. Every year a dead zone forms off the Louisiana coast and extends to Texas. Its low oxygen levels kill sea life in the deep water. This year, it's about 67-hundred square miles.
Larry McKinney is the executive director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M. He says farms receiving federal subsidies to grow corn for Ethanol are making matters worse for annual dead zones.

"That's been the irony of the whole thing is something that was thought to be good for the environment, really to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Those subsidies have certainly helped the Midwest but at the cost of the Gulf of Mexico and increasing the hypoxia zone."

Robert Ingram of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality says the Alliance is coordinating visits for farmers in northern states.

"We gave them a tour of what we were doing. We told them about our strategies, showed them some projects that implementing our strategies. And the coup de gras, we took them out in the Gulf to go fishing and gave them a sense of what the Gulf means to us, so it was very successful."

McKinney says the low oxygen area - known as hypoxia - won't stop developing unless changes are made.

"One of the great strengths of the Gulf of Mexico is its resilience. It's a very dynamic system. So each year that the hypoxia zone is formed, after it disappears the Gulf recovers and goes on. But if you keep doing this, just like a rubber band. Keep stretching the rubber band and stretching the rubber band, after a while it loses that resilience. It just won't stretch anymore and it breaks. And that's our concern."

McKinney says he's optimistic that improvements can be made because the national attention focused on the BP oil spill last year highlighted the importance of a healthy Gulf of Mexico to the nation's economy and environment.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming.