Cut back on fertilizer and help save the Gulf of Mexico

Photo courtesy of Ken-ichi at
Fertilizer doesn’t belong in the ocean.

Every time it rains, excess fertilizer washes off into rivers that eventually feed into the sea. Unnatural levels of phosphorous encourage algae to grow, and algal blooms suffocate fish or poison them with neurotoxins. The effect happens so fast that animals don’t have time to run away – they die in huge piles just like the people caught in Pompeii.

Many people who overuse fertilizer don’t realize that they’re causing an environmental disaster. Also, fertilizer abuse runs up huge, unnecessary bills. Money spent on excess fertilizer is literally poured down the drain. Homeowners and amateur gardeners are the worst when it comes to overusing fertilizer. According to the National Academy of Sciences, homeowners use 10 times more fertilizer than farmers do per acre.

The Gulf of Mexico is one area where runoff is particularly bad (since the Mississippi river manages to catch a lot of fertilizer). This year, research suggests that the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico will be larger than it has ever been before:

The zone off Louisiana reached a record 7,900 square miles in 2002. A recent estimate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Louisiana State University shows the zone, which has been monitored for about 25 years, could exceed 8,800 square miles this year, an area roughly the size of New Jersey.

And excess fertilizer isn’t the only problem facing the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf has a large oil drilling and refining infrastructure, and accidents happen far too often. For example, the Mississippi was closed today due to a messy collision between an oil tanker and a barge. That’ll leave a mark.

Unless people raise awareness about water pollution and fertilizer abuse, 2010 will see an even larger dead zone. Now is a good time to start reversing the trend – 8,800 square miles of dead water is already far too much. Be part of the solution – talk with your neighbors about how much fertilizer you use, and suggest natural alternatives that are low in phosphorous and nitrogen. Instead of high NPK values, try using compost tea and promoting helpful lawn bacteria. With the help of microbes, plants are able to get more benefits from the soil in a process called nutrient cycling.

Photo courtesy of
mrjoro at

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