Millions of Americans live along a coast and the ocean is a part of their daily experience. For many others, the ocean is a distant place, visited on vacations or perhaps never at all.
Not matter where you live, oceans touch your life. They’re important to our economy, regulate our climate and provide us with food.
Whether we live within sight of the ocean or hundreds of miles away, we all have an impact on the health of our marine environments because most of the water that drains off the land eventually makes its way to the sea.
A major threat to our oceans is fertilizers that run off farm fields and residential lawns, into lakes and rivers, and then into the oceans.
All life needs nutrients, but when nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers become too plentiful in water, they feed the algae the same way your fertilizer feeds your lawn. These algae can be toxic, killing fish and making the water unsuitable for human contact.
And when that algae dies and decomposes, it sucks all the oxygen out of the water and leads to so-called Dead Zones – marine environments without enough oxygen in the water for fish, shrimp and other aquatic life to survive.
Some of these Dead Zones are naturally occurring, but the intensive use of fertilizers by humans has led to extensive Dead Zones in the Gulf or Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and at a growing number Atlantic coastal areas. The Gulf of Mexico (pictured) has the second largest “Dead Zone” in the world.
The Nature Conservancy is partnering with farmers to reduce nutrient runoff from farm fields and working to conserve, connect and restore floodplain forests and wetlands that help filter nutrients before they reach rivers that will carry them to the sea.
You can help by making your lawn care “greener.” Be sparing with lawn fertilizer. Use water gardens to slow down the water coming off your property. Leave grass uncut along a creek or drainage swale. Better yet, replace grass with native plants that will bind the soil and slow down the water.
Another way consumers can help is to learn more about where their food comes from. Buying food that is certified organic supports sustainable farming practices.
By reducing the fertilizers coming off our farm fields and our yards, we can help make the oceans a better place for both people and nature.