Throughout the world, increasingly fragile coastal and inland lake ecosystems face a common and persistent threat; "dead zones" caused by hypoxia continue to challenge the integrity and productivity of environments that are home to a diverse biota and highly valued natural resources. Dead zones result from excess nutrients flowing from rivers to near-shore areas. Though hypoxia is often thought of as a challenge particular to the northern Gulf of Mexico, as the map above shows, dead zones are a problem of global proportions.
Hypoxia occurs when the oxygen required to support life becomes depleted, which can result in severe impairment of near-shore fisheries. Consequently, dead zones can also destabilize the businesses, families and communities that are sustained by fisheries. Further, nutrient enrichment can jeopardize the future of estuaries and coastal wetlands that depend on freshwater and sediment delivery for stability and persistence. In short, clean water is critical to the ecological, cultural and economic well-being of Louisiana, the nation and the world.
Addressing hypoxia is a grand challenge because solutions must meet a suite of simultaneous and sometimes conflicting needs – from protecting water resources and near-shore ecosystems to ensuring the capacity and vitality of agricultural productivity.
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