Dead zone off Central Oregon Coast is one of the worst in a decade

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered one of the worst dead zones in a decade off the Oregon Coast.

It was one in a series of strange events that happened this summer off Oregon’s coast.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists tracking crab populations captured it on video. Something unexpected was happening to the crabs when they were in the pots on the seafloor.

“When the oxygen levels were high, the crabs were happy and then the oxygen started to decline and then the crabs started to slow down and not move so much and over time they died. They suffocated on the sea floor,” said OSU marine ecologist Francis Chan.

Chan knew right away it was the work of a dead zone.

The Oregon State University researcher has been tracking dead zones off the Oregon Coast for more than a decade.

“A dead zone is an area in the ocean that basically has too low of oxygen values,” he explained.

In addition to the dying crabs, Chan began to notice other bizarre things happening in the waters off our coast this past summer.

People were catching fish in places they weren’t expecting and then there was the sudden appearance of pickle-looking sea creatures called pyrosomes.

Curious about what was happening, Chan and his colleagues conducted more tests and collected more data and discovered more than just a small dead zone.

“It’s one of the worst that we’ve seen,” he said.

It stretched from about Newport to Florence.

But the worst happened back in 2006. That summer thousands of crabs and other marine life littered the ocean floor.

As for what’s causing these dead zones?

Chan believes it comes down to a climate that is changing.

“Because we know as the ocean warms it actually holds less oxygen in it and also makes a thicker blanket that keeps the deeper ocean from taking a breath,” he said.

The good news is the fall storms are helping stir up the ocean and get rid of the dead zones.

But, Chan worries they will return next spring. He and his team will be back out on the ocean tracking them.

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