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    Rapid growth of ocean 'dead zones' threatens planet

    JEJU, South Korea (AFP) Mar 29, 2004

    The spread of oxygen-starved "dead zones" in the oceans, a graveyard for fish and plant life, is emerging as a threat to the health of the planet, experts said here Monday.

    For hundreds of millions of people who depend on seas and oceans for their livelihoods, and for many more who rely on a diet of fish and seafood to survive, the problem is acute.

    Some of the oxygen-deprived zones are relatively small, less than one square kilometre (0.4 square miles) in size. Others are vast, measuring more than 70,000 square kilometres.

    Pollution, particularly the overuse of nitrogen in fertilizers, is responsible for the spread of dead zones, environment ministers and experts from more than 100 countries were told.

    The number of known oxygen-starved areas has doubled since 1990 to nearly 150, according to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), holding is annual conference here.

    "What is clear is that unless urgent action is taken to tackle the sources of the problem, it is likely to escalate rapidly," UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer said.