'Dead Zone' kills billions of mussels

Apr 11, 2006

A 2001 "dead zone" that formed in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay reportedly killed billions of mussels and destroyed at least one reef.

The so-called dead zones are caused by hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, which literally suffocates sea life. While some evidence of the "dead zone" could be seen on the bay's surface, Brown University ecologists went underwater and discovered an estimated 4.5 billion mussels -- about 80 percent of the reefs' population -- died in the event, which also damaged nine other reefs.

"What we saw was a local extinction," said Andrew Altieri, a co-author of the report. "The mussel population was devastated. If the magnitude of this die-off was visible from the surface, there would've been public alarm."

Researchers said hypoxia can start when fertilizer or sewage spills into coastal waters, carrying nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients. Often fueled by high summer temperatures, the nutrients produce algae blooms. When the alga dies, it sinks to the bottom, where it is consumed by bacteria -- along with dissolved oxygen. That is what happened in Narragansett.

The study, conducted with Associate Professor Jon Witman, was published in the journal Ecology and also appears online.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Explore further: Thermonuclear supernova ejects our galaxy's fastest star (w/ video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Baited video cameras help detect deep sea fish

Feb 09, 2015

Using baited longlines in conjunction with baited remote underwater video systems (BRUVs) has improved the way in which deep water fish stocks are monitored for conservation purposes.

Virus causing mass Cape Cod duck die-offs identified

Dec 16, 2014

Since 1998, hundreds and sometimes thousands of dead eider ducks have been washing up every year on Cape Cod's beaches in late summer or early fall, but the reasons behind these cyclic die-offs have remained ...

Autopsies from space: who killed the sea lions?

Nov 24, 2014

A decade ago, we set out to unravel deep ocean crime scenes we weren't even sure existed. The crime? Endangered Steller sea lions were rapidly disappearing in parts of Alaska. Their numbers dropped by 80% in three decades, yet only rarely did anyone see or sample dead sea lions. Live sea lions stu ...

Recommended for you

'Planck' puts Einstein to the test

7 hours ago

Researchers, including physicists from Heidelberg University, have gained new insights into dark energy and the theory of gravitation by analysing data from the "Planck" satellite mission of the European ...

Distant supernova split four ways by gravitational lens

8 hours ago

Over the past several decades, astronomers have come to realize that the sky is filled with magnifying glasses that allow the study of very distant and faint objects barely visible with even the largest telescopes.

Testing to diagnose power event in Mars rover

13 hours ago

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is expected to remain stationary for several days of engineering analysis following an onboard fault-protection action on Feb. 27 that halted a process of transferring sample material ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.