Thousands Of Animals Are Dying In This Massive 'Dead Zone'

It's the size of New Jersey.

In the Gulf of Mexico, there is a "dead zone." It's the largest it's ever been — it's now believed to be over 8,000 square miles, roughly the size of the state of New Jersey — and it just keeps growing.

This is where fish are dying every year because pollution causes toxic algae blooms that are stripping the water of oxygen. Other animals flee the habitat to save their lives. It's even possible to see exactly where the zone starts — the blue water butts up against water a dismal shade of yellow-green, where the uninhabitable expanse begins. And it's all so that people can keep consuming cheap, mass-produced meat.

"The Dead Zone is a disaster for the Gulf, its creatures, and the many Americans who depend on healthy oceans and healthy fisheries," Lucia von Reusner, campaign director for Mighty Earth, told The Dodo. Mighty Earth is the environmental organization that just released a new report finding the root causes of the ever-increasing dead zone.

When excess fertilizer from massive farms that produce livestock feed and manure from factory farming operations washes into waterways all through the Midwest, they contaminate the water, which washes into the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, where the largest dead zone is.

And it isn't just marine life that suffers.

Even drinking water for people who live in those regions becomes contaminated with nitrates. And the U.S. is the largest producer of chicken and beef in the world, and the third largest producer of pork, so the strain isn't expected to let up any time soon.

"As demand for meat grows, America’s last native grassland prairies are being destroyed," the report reads. "While there has been significant research into the vast environmental and public health impacts of the meat industry, there has been little exploration of who exactly is responsible. This investigation attempts to fill that gap by shedding light on the industries and specific companies driving meat’s environmental impact in America."

Dead fish in algae filled water in the Gulf of Mexico
Mighty Earth

The investigation — which mapped the vast network of factory farms, grain farms (which produce livestock feed), feed-mixing facilities and feedlots onto maps that show where water is most polluted with nitrates and fertilizers — found that the nation's largest meat company, Tyson Foods, deserves much of the blame. Tyson Foods produces 20 percent of the meat in this country, supplying chains including McDonald's and Walmart.

Mighty Earth

"It’s a disaster that can be addressed, and eventually fixed, if America’s big meat companies step up to the plate and create change in how animal feed is grown," von Reusner said. "What’s needed now is for Americans to push on these big companies to bring those responsible farming practices to scale as quickly as possible. That will protect our drinking water, the ecosystems that depend on healthy rivers and oceans and the health of millions of people in turn."

You can help the animals and people impacted by this pollution by calling on Tyson Foods to clean up its act. You can create long-term change by cutting down on the meat in your diet — it can even be good for you.