This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, announced that the yearly dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the biggest one ever seen, at about the size of New Jersey. A dead zone is an area in the water where oxygen is depleted, most often due to fertilizer runoff and excess nutrients that fuel algal blooms and result in the deaths of fish and other marine life. The record-breaking dead zone this year is the result of unusually heavy rains in the Midwest, which flushed nutrients into the Gulf. In response, federal and state officials are encouraging farmers to plant wide grassy strips along streams to trap fertilizer runoff as part of their action plan. However, according to Don Scavia, professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan, meeting the government’s goal for a smaller dead zone will require dramatic cuts in nutrient pollution from farms.