It’s deadly, it’s massive and it’s growing.

It’s called the dead zone — a region in the Gulf of Mexico that is toxic to marine life.

For years scientists and policy-makers have been working to find a way to reduce the size of the affected area, which expanded to a record 6,662 square miles last year (that’s an area roughly the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined). Fertilizer and waste water flow into the Gulf from the Mississippi River, depositing nutrients that lead to algal blooms. The algae rapidly proliferate, and then suck up all of the oxygen in the water as they die and decompose on the ocean floor.

The folks working on the issue, federal officials and scientists appointed by the EPA, are meeting this week in New Orleans to discuss the issue — again.

According to an article in the Times-Picayune:

But more than five years after the task force pledged to reduce the dead zone to a quarter of its size by 2015, it's still getting bigger. A boom in corn production for ethanol is bringing more farmland on line, leading experts to predict near-record sizes this year.

Researchers are starting to think that the dead zone could change the ecology in the Gulf because the conditions kill bottom-dwelling organisms, which is now a recurring problem.

But shrinking the size of the zone is an expensive task, and one that many officials don’t want to fund, according to the article.

Maybe they should offer to pay kids $1 per bucket of algae they remove from the Gulf. As children, we fell for a similar scheme involving dandelions in our grandparent’s backyard.

Story by Susan Cosier. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2007. The story was added to MNN.com in July 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007.