By Manav Garg:
For days and weeks, I sat down in front of my laptop screen, reading the causes of the disaster in Uttarakhand. Media, print and television went on and on about the ecological imbalance mankind has created, and the after effects of our unplanned expansion. Most environmental hazards are feared due to their direct affects on human beings. Be it the Minmata disease that spread in Japan affecting thousands, or fear of consumption of water post toxification by industrial waste.
The environmental hazard I write about is not one that will cause 10,000 deaths in a week, and thus grab attention from all parts of the world. It doesn’t cause havoc, destroying buildings and cities, and is therefore never feared by a name. I talk of a phenomenon that causes slow and painful death to millions of organisms over a long period of time, turning blooming waters into biological deserts.
Dead oceanic zones, in layman’s terms, are stretches of lifeless water due to lack of dissolved oxygen. Typically found close to inhabited coast lines, they are rich in chemical nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorous from agricultural and organic waste that we dump into these oceans and seas. We have existing mechanisms to control dumping of toxic and nuclear wastes into water bodies, but as it turns out, even our so called ‘organic’ wastes prove to be as harmful. Rich in nitrogenous compounds, they force the dissolved oxygen into a variety of chemical reactions, binding them into strong salts and compounds, and turning the water devoid of this precious gas.
A 2008 study marks 405 Dead Oceanic Zones around the world, with most of them around the Americas. In subsequent years, there have been discoveries of such waters around the coast lines of Asian nations like China and Japan too. The increase in such areas is astounding. In the Gulf of Mexico alone (the second largest dead oceanic zone currently), the area marked ‘dead’ has jumped from 39 to 21756 sq kilometers within 14 years! Other than these zones, there have been other areas marked as “oxygen depleted’”Â where marine animals have been reported to possess deformities like smaller reproductive organs, and are progressing towards zero oxygen levels.
But even after such reports have hit popular international journals, why is the world turning a blind eye to the oceans? The “Energy Independence and Security Act (USA)” seeks to triple the current production of the corn plant to provide raw material for bio-fuels in the country. What this also means, is tripling the current agricultural waste from that industry into the water bodies around, in a nation hit hardest by these zones.
And we also ignore the economic aspect. Disappearing fisheries further strain agriculture and livestock to fulfill our ever increasing demand for food and push fishermen into over exploiting the resources in non dead areas, thus depleting them.
So, is this the end of the road? Well, not yet. Experiments in Sweden have suggested the possibility of reviving life in parts of the Baltic Sea, the biggest man made dead zone at this time. Further studies show that periods of careful dumping of wastes, with natural’s magical cycle can revive areas that are currently pronounced dead. But do we have the patience, and more importantly, the foresight to take a stance on protecting our oceans? For our own sake, I really hope we do.