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Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone third smallest on record

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says this year’s hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico was much smaller than expected.  

Dr. Nancy Rabalais, the chief scientist for the survey cruise that measured the zone, said it was about a quarter of NOAA’s June estimate because of weather. 

“The activity in the Gulf that caused this particularly small size, was hurricane Hanna,” Rabalais said.

She says the zone is just over 2,100 square miles.  

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said while progress is being made towards decreasing the hypoxia zone, looking at year to year change can be misleading. 

“One thing that the annual measurement shows, is that there’s significant variability in the size of the zone each year,” he said. “For example, [the] Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone was the largest in 2017 and just one year later it was the fourth smallest and today we’re talking about the third smallest.”

Naig said states have varied regulatory and voluntary measures to decrease nutrient runoff into rivers. He said a single regulatory guideline to control nutrient runoff into rivers and the gulf likely wouldn’t be the most effective to decrease the zone as each area has different needs. 

“In the state of Iowa, our nutrient reduction strategy is absolutely focused on working with landowners and working with cities and working with our wastewater and storm water managers to do the right things,” he said. “Again, not from a regulatory standpoint but from a voluntary [one]. Although, we many times say it’s voluntary but not optional.”

He said when states locally manage storm and wastewater and keep good conservation practices, water quality is improved locally and the hypoxia zone in the gulf is decreased. Rabalais and Naig spoke on a NOAA media call Tuesday. 

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