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Press Release

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
National Wetlands Research Center
700 Cajundome Blvd.
Lafayette, LA 70506

Contact: Gabrielle Boudreaux Bodin
Phone: 337-266-8655
Fax: 337-266-8541
For Release: February 18, 1998

USGS National Wetlands Research Center To Host Workshop on Hypoxia in Gulf of Mexico

The U.S. Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center will host a workshop on hypoxia affecting the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, February 18, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at its headquarters in Lafayette, La. U.S. Senator John Breaux will give the congressional perspective on the issue to federal, state, university, and other meeting participants.

"I am delighted that Senator Breaux will be addressing the group. He is deeply concerned about the hypoxic issue and how it might have a negative effect on Gulf fisheries, jobs and the economy," Center Director Robert E. Stewart, Jr. said.

"The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the so-called dead zone, has become known as one of the largest environmental issues of this decade. An area of 6,100 square miles or larger lacks enough oxygen to support most marine life," Stewart said.

Stewart described the area as being in the inner to mid-continental shelf of the northern Gulf of Mexico, from the Mississippi River birdfoot delta westward to the upper Texas coast. He added that hypoxia is often defined as dissolved oxygen levels below 2 parts per million. Trawlers do not capture shrimp at lower oxygen levels. He added that scientists have reported that the Gulf's hypoxic zone rivals the largest hypoxic areas elsewhere in the world's coastal waters, that is, in the Baltic Sea and the northwestern shelf of the Black Sea.

Carroll Cordes, center scientist and organizer of the workshop, said the low oxygen in the hypoxic zone is caused by increased nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, animal wastes and domestic sewage. These nutrients encourage algal bloom, alter the food chain and eventually deplete the area of oxygen. Cordes said there has been some awareness of the problem since the 1970's, but scientists are unsure whether or not this is a recent problem that has been worsened by nutrient application.

"The purpose of the workshop is to develop ways to reduce nutrient inflows from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The participants will discuss the feasibility of such remedies as reducing fertilizer applications, creating buffer strips along farmlands and diverting river waters through forested or coastal wetlands to absorb nutrients before they reach the Gulf," Cordes said.

Before the working sessions begin, several participants will provide background information. They are Bryon Griffith, Environmental Protection Agency, overview of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic problem; Rick Hooper, U.S. Geological Survey, review of USGS Water Resources Division's monitoring in the Mississippi River System; Hiram Boone, Natural Resources Conservation Service, existing actions and measures for reducing nutrient loading to the Gulf of Mexico (agricultural programs); and Charles Villarrubia, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, freshwater diversions, nutrients and hypoxia.

After the overview participants will break into smaller meetings to discuss measures for nutrient reduction, their feasibility, costs, implementation and verification of success.

Stewart added, "In President Clinton's proposed budget for 1999 there is $550,000 allocated to USGS to begin addressing the hypoxia issue in the Gulf. Part of that will focus on problems in the Upper Mississippi Valley, including the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. Our Center will be part of the effort directed to reducing nutrient flow originating in the lower Mississippi Valley-Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana."

As the nation's largest water, earth and biological science and civilian mapping agency, the USGS works in cooperation with more than 2,000 organizations across the country to provide reliable, impartial, scientific information to resource managers, planners and other customers. This information is gathered in every state by USGS scientists to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, contribute to the sound conservation, economic and physical development of the nation's natural resources and enhance the quality of life by monitoring water, biological, energy and mineral resources.

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