Researchers warn of decline in oxygen levels in ocean, gulf waters

By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
August 15, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Governor Rick Scott announced major gains in tourism on Tuesday, as a record-setting 60.7 million visitors came to Florida in the first six months of the year.

However, FSU researchers say one of the state's biggest draws - ocean and gulf waters - are facing a challenge.

Ocean life took a major hit due to a 50,000-year decline in oxygen levels in the water nearly 94-million years ago. At the time, it was caused by a spike in volcanic activity, which dumped carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Now, it appears the same thing is happening, only researchers say mankind has taken over the role of producing the carbon dioxide.

"Over the last 50 years, we've had about a two percent loss of oxygen in our oceans, and so just multiply that by the next 50,000 years," said FSU assistant geology professor Jeremy Owens.

50,000 years may sound like a while away, but the number isn't set in stone.

"We've never had an increase in CO2 as quickly as we have," Owens continued. "So, these things could be expanding much more rapidly."

CO2 isn't the only culprit behind the problem. Fertilizers and nutrients from humans also contribute to declining oxygen levels, the effects of which can be seen right here in Florida.

Owens explained, "These nutrients that we end up releasing near our coastlines cause red tides. One of the major impacts of these red tides is not just the toxic release of different compounds that they do, but also that there's actually a major draw down on oxygen and we've seen this.”

For Florida to reduce its contributions to ocean deoxygenation, researches say the state needs to make a greater commitment to renewable energy, reduce pollution from fertilizers and increase efforts to protect the state's wetlands, which help replenish oxygen levels in the water.

According to the most recent statistics, ocean tourism contributed $8 billion to Florida's economy.

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