Photo via Dragonfly 777
Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have just completed a rigorous study of the world's coastal ecosystems, and the results are shocking. The analysis uncovered the single dirtiest, most imperiled coastal ecosystem on earth--and it's right here in the USA. Beating out the sludge-filled Mekong and the polluted Ganges delta, the mouth of the Mississippi River has been anointed the most disgusting--and most endangered--coastal habitat in the world.The surprising part is just how dirty the Mississippi is--we knew it was polluted, as it rounded out our list of the world's dirtiest lakes and rivers. But the fact that it's worse than the grossest coastal habitats in Southeast Asia or Bangladesh is truly alarming.
After all, the countries that contribute to the pollution of rivers like the Mekong and the Ganges are poor, developing countries--not that that should be an excuse, but when the richest nation in the world has the dirtiest coastal habitat, the picture for marine conservation gets pretty bleak.
So what makes the Mississippi so dirty? One word, farming. According to the Environmental News Service:
. . . the nutrient runoff from upstream farms that flows down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico is responsible for the most tainted coastal ecosystem in the world. These nutrients have led to a persistent dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by an overgrowth of algae that feeds on the nutrients and takes up most of the oxygen in the water, depriving other marine organisms of the oxygen they need to survive.Note that the Mississippi hasn't been deemed the 'dirtiest river' in the world--but the pollution it carries accumulates in what becomes the dirtiest coastal ecosystem. And as 'dirtiest' or 'most polluted' tags often do, it means it's also one of the most threatened. In this case, the 'hotspot', or the area where it's worst, is located right at the river's mouth, where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
But we're not alone in creating hugely endangered coastal ecosystems--both developing and rich nations around the world have their share. In fact, the UCSB study found that many sites are in grave danger. The runners-up, so to speak, are:
The second most threatened marine coastal ecosystem is where the Ganges River drains into the Sunderbans delta in the Bay of Bengal near Dhaka, Bangladesh. The third most imperiled coastal ecosystem is where the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea near Saigon, Vietnam. Next are China's Pearl River where it meets the South China Sea near Hong Kong, Italy's Po River where it drains into the Adriatice Sea near Venice, followed by the Rhine and Meuse rivers that empty into the North Sea near Rotterdam in the Netherlands.River conservation has got to become a priority--not just in the US, but around the world. And since we've done some of the worst damage, perhaps its time we take some initiative and lead the way by tightening up regulations on what farmers can dump or allow to leech into the Mississippi. It'd be a start.