Humans are literally killing the planet.
Despite the best efforts of countries on the Baltic coast to help the sea recover over the past 10 years, the “dead zone” in the Baltic Sea now covers an area of approximately 70,000 square kilometers — roughly the size of Ireland — the Guardian reported.
Nitrogen and phosphorus, chemical nutrients essential for plants, from agricultural sites makes their way into water bodies where they cause rapid algae growth. The algae eventually dies, sinks, and decomposes. As the algae decomposes it uses up oxygen in the water, suffocating other marine creatures or prompting them to flee the area, and gives birth to “dead zones.”
The low oxygen levels in the water also impact fish stocks — and therefore the livelihoods of fishermen — and can promote the growth of toxic bacteria.
This isn’t the first time that oxygen levels in the Baltic have dipped. In their recently published study, the Finnish and German research team found that marine life in the Baltic sea has been disappearing over the last 100 years, but that the current stress on the sea is “unprecedented.”
Unfortunately, agricultural runoff and sewage are not the only ways that humans are harming the sea. The scientists told the Guardian that global warming — largely driven by humans — “is likely delaying the recovery process, because oxygen dissolves less easily in warm water.”
In 2015, NASA captured this massive bloom in the Baltic Sea. Large blooms can cause a "dead zone" where other organisms can't live. pic.twitter.com/WpCYvMc2BF— ThinkBlueOK (@ThinkBlueOK) March 24, 2017
Though governments in the Baltic region are already working on a recovery plan, Sami Jokinen and Tom Jilbert, co-authors of the study, say that individuals have a role to play in healing the sea.
“One of the main things to do in the future may be to reduce the proportion of meat in the diet,” they said. “Livestock agriculture generates higher nutrient losses per kilogram of food produced” and those nutrients can find their way into the water where they upset the ecosystem.