In 2016, Charles Marsala, Louisiana Senate candidate, hosted Earth Fest in Jefferson Parish, La. After learning about the 6,000-square-mile "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico along Louisiana's coast, he felt it was time for action. The State has been studying the Gulf Dead Zone since 1983 with a great staff of scientists, but little legislation or political activity has transpired to reduce the size of the Dead Zone.

Two years ago, Marsala, former Mayor of Atherton, Calif., designed a wildlife television show based on the 1970s classic Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.

He added discussion of endangered species and waterway issues. The show, Awesome Wildlife Effort,airs on public broadcasting, and individual segments are listed on his YouTube channel, AWE News. An episode focused on harmful algal blooms, or HABs, was nominated for a regional Emmy award.

Growing up near Like Pontchartrain, Marsala remembers warnings at the lake, prohibiting swimming in the 1970s. Since then, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has restored the lake, but little has been done to reduce the Dead Zone or the HAB in the Gulf.

Both phenomenons occur not only along the Gulf Coast but in more than 500 areas worldwide.

Harmful algal blooms, red tides, and dead zone causation

Excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways, cause HABs, which were first reported in the 1950s. The extra nutrients cause algae to bloom exponentially. When the algae die, bacteria consume the oxygen in the water, causing fish to move out of the hypoxic area or even suffocate.

The result of an HAB can be a dead zone.

Often, the marine life cannot leave the area fast enough, resulting in massive fish kills, or red tides. The HAB itself contains cyanobacteria that is known to produce a wide array of neurotoxins, liver toxins, skin irritants, and respiratory problems. In some cases, swimmers have lost limbs due to flesh-eating bacteria. During HABs, oyster cannot be harvested, causing large spikes in retail prices throughout the industry.

Hitchcock's 'The Birds' inspired by harmful algal blooms

In 1961, a septic tank leak caused an HAB in Monterey Bay, Calif. The birds that ate the toxic algae became disoriented and flew into buildings. Famed director Sir Alfred Hitchcock heard of the bizarre incident and was inspired to create his classic horror film "The Birds."

Over 40 years later, the Louisiana University Marine Consortium (LUMCON) analyzed the tissue of the birds from the Monterey Bay septic leak and discovered the HAB connection. LUMCON opened in 1983 to study the Gulf Dead Zone, which is the second-largest dead zone in the world and continues to grow.

In recent months, California, Iowa, and Florida have seen massive HABs, fish kills, and beach closures.

Congressional legislation impact on harmful algal blooms

In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, mandating 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended into transportation fuel by 2022. To achieve this goal, the U.S. must increase production of corn-starch ethanol to no more than 15 billion gallons and cellulosic ethanol to no less than 16 billion gallons. The increased production of corn and grasses has caused increased use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers which filter downstream through rivers into coastal waters.

Farm fertilizers combined with consumer fertilizers have increased HABs throughout America's waterways.

As Mayor, Marsala hosted Earth Day forums to discuss the use of technology in reducing environmental impact from human activity. He stated, "As Senator, I will lead a conference and invite all states along the Mississippi River to discuss specific topics, from better retention ponds to apps that provide optimal fertilization times and amounts. It must be a team effort."

Marsala's discussion of HAB solutions with Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) regarding Lake Erie is available on his YouTube channel Marsala for LA.

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