Dead Zone Threatens Oregon Crabbing and Fishing Industries

Climate change is not only creating issues on the land like more dangerous wildfires, but in the ocean as well. Scientists recently discovered a large dead zone forming off the Oregon and Washington coasts.  

Dead zones are caused when winds create upwelling, a phenomenon that brings dense, cooler and nutrient-rich water from the deeper parts of the ocean to the surface. Upwelling causes oxygen levels in the ocean to drop so low that aquatic life can’t survive.  

Dead zones have happened before. In 2006, crabs were scattered all over the ocean floor off the Oregon coast. The sudden absence of fish in the area caused alarm and researchers took action. What they discovered was a dead zone; there was no oxygen in the water.  

“In years where the summer starts early, those are the years we see the worst hypoxic low oxygen zones,” said Oregon State University Marine Ecologist Dr. Francis Chan.  

Since 2006, Chan has been tracking oxygen levels in the ocean. This past spring, he predicted there would be another dead zone in summer.  

“Unfortunately we were right, those predictions were right, and we are seeing very low dissolved oxygen waters,” Chan said.  

A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research trip found a low oxygen zone only 6 miles offshore, extending from northern Washington all the way down through Oregon.  

“It followed the model projections pretty well except it got closer to the coast than what we expected,” said NOAA Senior Scientist Richard Freely. “It was a little more intense than we expected.”  

“We’re not at zero, but we’re getting really, really close to zero and it’s only midsummer,” said Chan.  

The closer dead zones get to the shore, the more impact they have on fisheries, including the crabbing industry. Researchers are continuing to monitor the ocean, check on marine life, and track yet another result of climate change they think is here to stay.  

“One of the ways climate change is expressed in the ocean is through the expansion of things like these low dissolved oxygen zones,” said Chain. “This is one of the harbingers of climate change.” 

By: Kayla Mosley