A “dead zone” that formed in 2001 in Narragansett Bay left a lethal legacy, Brown University research shows. In a study of nine mussel reefs, published in Ecology, researchers report that oxygen-depleted water killed one reef and nearly wiped out the rest. A year later, only one of the nine reefs was recovering. The result was a sharp reduction in the reefs’ ability to filter phytoplankton, a process that helps control “dead zone” formation.
Waves of dead mussels – researchers estimate the die-off at about 4.5 billion – washed ashore on Prudence Island, left, and elsewhere in Narragansett Bay during the summer of 2001.
Fish kills, foul odors and closed beaches hit Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay during the summer of 2001. The culprit was hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, which literally suffocates sea life. While some evidence of this “dead zone” could be seen on the bay’s surface, Brown University ecologists went underwater and discovered a massive mussel die-off.
In a survey of nine mussel reefs located in the central bay, researchers found one reef completely wiped out. Of the remaining eight, seven were severely depleted. The ecologists estimate that the number of mussels that died was roughly 4.5 billion, or about 80 percent of the reefs’ population.
Wendy Lawton | EurekAlert!
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