Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Depths of Depression – Dead Zones

Dear Readers,

I need to warn you, the “awareness” I am presenting here is infinitely depressing. The images at the link will sicken you.  But please, try to work through this. What you read and see will further motivate you to want to reduce humanity’s impacts on the environment – it will influence your voter choices; it will impact your consumer choices; it will fuel your drive to create positive change.

There is currently an area of ocean in Hood Canal, Washington with very little oxygen (“hypoxic” = very low levels of oxygen; “anoxic” = no oxygen).  Too little oxygen means that marine life cannot breathe.

These ocean “dead zones” appear to becoming more common in the Pacific Northwest.  As I type there are fish and other marine life that have suffocated in Hood Canal.

The lack of oxygen in the ocean water is the result of increased winds and/or too much nitrogen.

The specific event now in Hood Canal is most likely caused by the accumulation of nutrients like nitrogen (from agricultural run-off and human sewage) “fertilizing” phytoplankton (plant-like plankton / algae).  The phytoplankton thrive, increase in number, causing a “bloom” and using up the oxygen. This is called eutrophication. In this case, wind could alleviate the situation as it would cause mixing and oxygenation of the water.

However, increased winds due to climate change can also cause “dead zones”. If the winds bring oxygen-poor and nutrient rich water from the ocean’s depths to the surface, this fertilizes phytoplankton at the surface, creating a bloom. The phytoplankton use up what little oxygen there is and when they die and decay at the ocean bottom, more oxygen is used up. The dynamic is very well illustrated in the Oregon State University image above.

The current situation in Hood Canal has been painfully captured in images by diver Janna Nichols at Sund Rock (Southern Hood Canal) on September 27th.

She watches an octopus die; finds 4 wolf eels and multiple decorator warbonnets out in the open, panting (these are cryptic species that are usually not out in the open and do not “breathe” like this) and she films dense schools of fish attempting to conserve energy to lower their oxygen demands. [I think these images may be all the more painful for fellow divers as you will fully know how aberrant these behaviours are.]

But before you follow the links, let’s talk about solutions. No one should ever talk about environmental problems without discussing solutions.

Why is there more wind?  Climate change.

Why is there too much nitrogen? Human disconnect from the environment and absence of precaution leading to our using the ocean like a toilet.

How to solve the problem?  Do all those little and big things we know will provide solutions for all environmental problems.  Use less. Find out if things are dangerous first. Realize how connected you are to these marine animals. Teach (please share this blog item). And above all – believe you can make a difference!

More specific actions are provided here.

Be hopeful. Help empower change.

4 Responses to “Depths of Depression – Dead Zones”

  1. Natasha

    I recently saw a program on this and there was indication of these dead zones forming off the bc coast…our poor oceans so abused, out of site out of mind, isn’t so easy now with underwater video and cameras being more affordable and user friendly to the average person and we can only hope that “dilution is the solution” will no longer be part of our public process of dealing with the unwanted.

  2. jacqui Engel

    It was like watching at Five Fathom Rock die. So horrible. Thanks for the positive note though, I am going to try harder.

  3. jackiehildering

    Message from Janna Nicols – Although Hood Canal low O2 has some different factors (south wind blows surface O2 out of the canal, not North winds, and a ‘sill’ at the entrance to the canal that prevents a better exchange of water) than coastal low O2, some of the principles remain the same.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s