Of Water and People


Exploring the human-caused “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico

In Federico Borella’s long form documentary project Of Water and People, he explores the “Dead Zone” phenomenon, responsible for widespread environmental damage and with far-reaching impacts on commerce and leisure in the Gulf of Mexico.

A problem of such immense magnitude, relating to biological changes invisible to the human eye, is a challenging thing to visualise – to make real and engaging. Federico’s approach is to work at varying scales. He captures panoramic landscapes that paint a context in which we find individuals – fishermen, farmers, tour guides – and their personal stories. Macro and micro details that together offer access into a complex subject.

Here we provide an abridged version of Federico’s series statement, along with a selection of the 29 images it contains. We invite you to the explore the Dead Zone with him.

“Each year, excess nutrients from cities and farms are drained into the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River. An overabundance of nitrates and phosphorus can cause algae to grow abnormally fast. When algal blooms die, the decaying matter consumes the oxygen and kills fish, shellfish, coral and vegetation, causing a hypoxic area, or “Dead zone”.

Nutrient runoff is a considerable threat to North America’s marine and fresh water systems, threatening natural areas and wildlife habitat, tainting drinking water supplies, and imposing tremendous water treatment costs on communities. The largest human-caused hypoxic zone currently affecting the United States, and the second largest worldwide, occurs in the northern Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the Mississippi River on the Louisiana and Texas continental shelf. In 2017, it has been measured with the record size of 8,776 square miles, approximately the same size as the state of Massachusetts. The Gulf’s hypoxic zones are caused by excess nutrient pollution, primarily from human activities such as agriculture, wastewater treatment, urbanization a