Water quality devices track dead zones off Grand Strand

August 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Water Quality

by Joel Allen

Dead zones, those areas of low oxygen levels in the ocean that can cause various environmental problems, seem to be showing up more often off the coast of the Grand Strand.

Researchers from Coastal Carolina University have placed water quality monitors on several local piers with the hope that the measurements they gather will help scientists get a better idea of what causes dead zones and perhaps what to do about them.

Scientists from CCU’s Environmental Quality Laboratory showed off their newest sensor equipment to reporters Wednesday.

While fishermen at the Cherry Grove Pier work on landing a big one, the CCU lab’s sensors in the water beneath their feet quietly gather information about things like ocean temperature, dissolved oxygen and barometric pressure.

That information is sent to a public website, where the CCU scientists can use it to get a better idea of what’s going on beneath the ocean surface.

Fishermen can use it, too.

“Different people have different theories about what’s the best time to go fishing and fishing for different fish, and so they can form their own opinions, go on there (to the website) and get the data for themselves and plan their day,” said Dr. Michael Trapp, the director of CCU’s Environmental Quality Lab.

But perhaps the major goal of the monitoring is to find out more about those regions of hypoxia, or low oxygen levels in the ocean, which can lead to fish kills, algae growth and a foul smell.

Researchers think storm water runoff from cities might have something to do with the formation of dead zones along the Grand Strand, but the scientists aren’t sure, which is why Trapp says they need long-term monitoring.

“We don’t know what it was like before there was people, we don’t know what it was like a hundred years ago. We only know what it’s like now and so it’s important to understand what’s going on.”

The city of Myrtle Beach contributed $110,000 toward buying the water monitoring equipment, plus $40,000 per year to help maintain it.

City officials say if it helps the ocean, it’s worth it.

“It is our biggest natural resource. We want to know all that we can about it to make sure that it is here forever for our visitors and our residents, so more data is good, so we’re happy to be a part of this,” said Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea.

The monitor at Cherry Grove pier is the newest, but others are in place at Apache Pier and 2nd Avenue Pier in Myrtle Beach.

Dead zones in ocean threaten fish

January 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With the New Year comes new challenges to fish in our world’s oceans and one of the major concerns is the expansion of hypoxic zones. That’s the scientific name but more recreational anglers are becoming aware of them as “dead zones.”

They are areas in the oceans with low or non-existent oxygen levels which, according to a recently released research study by scientists and fish management experts, are increasing in size while decreasing the habitats of billfish and tuna. In scientific circles this phenomena is called “habitat compression.”

Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation (TBF) said scientists outfitted 79 sailfish and blue marlin in two strategic areas of the Atlantic with pop-off archival satellite tags which monitored their horizontal and vertical movement patterns.

“Billfish favor abundant habitats of oxygen-rich waters closer to the surface while avoiding waters low in oxygen,” Peel said. The study, composed of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and TBF, found a massive expanding low oxygen zone in the Atlantic Ocean is encroaching upon the fish forcing them into shallower waters where they are more likely to be caught. The research waters included areas off south Florida and the Caribbean (western North Atlantic); and off the coast of West Africa (the eastern tropical Atlantic).

Hypoxic zones occur naturally in areas of the world’s tropical and equatorial seas because of ongoing weather patterns, oceanographic and biological processes. In the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming, hypoxic areas are expanding and shoaling closer to the sea surface, and may continue to expand as sea temperatures rise.

“The zone off West Africa,” said Dr. Eric D. Prince, NOAA Fisheries Service research biologist, “encompasses virtually all the equatorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean, is roughly the size of the continental United States and is growing. With the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming we expect the size of this zone to increase, further reducing the available habitat for these fishes.”