From: Morgan Erickson-Davis, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published December 30, 2010 02:52 PM

Growing Atlantic dead zone shrinks habitat for billfish and tuna, may lead to over-harvest

A dead zone off the coast of West Africa is reducing the amount of available habitat for Atlantic tuna and billfish species, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a study published in Fisheries Oceanography. The zone is growing due to rising water temperatures and is expected to cause over-harvest of tuna and billfish as the fish seek higher levels of oxygen in areas with greater fisheries activity.

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Dead zones are areas of the ocean which are too low in oxygen to support many marine species. There are about 400 of these "hypoxic" regions throughout the world, many caused by human activities. Perhaps the most notorious, the New Jersey-size dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused by fertilizer runoff released by the Mississippi which encourages oxygen-depleting algae to proliferate out of control. Another dead zone was discovered in 2007. It occurs off the coast of Texas, where the Brazos river empties into the Gulf.

Dead zones can also be caused by climate change. Increases in ocean temperature can change the course of currents, isolating certain areas from influxes of deeper, colder water. As the water in the area sits, it warms and releases its oxygen, making it inhospitable to many aquatic species. Three major dead zones are known to have been caused by climate change: one off the coast of Chile and Peru, one off the east coast of Africa, and another off of Africa's west coast. A new dead zone was reported off the US west coast in 2002. It occurs seasonally and is believed to be part of a continuum of South America's dead zone.

NOAA scientists teamed up with researchers from the University of Miami and The Billfish Foundation to study the West African dead zone and its effect on fish species.

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