Chris Qualls, 39, works as a deckhand on Ed Machaceh’s oyster boat off the coast of Palacios. I photographed him as part of a project on the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, the largest in the United States. This vast swath of oxygen-deprived water spreads off the coast of Texas and Louisiana every summer, forcing marine life to flee or be killed. This year’s dead zone is projected to be one of the biggest ever at 8,000 square miles — nearly the size of New Jersey.
Qualls and Machaceh have worked together at the edge of the dead zone for 14 years. They told me it’s taking longer these days to gather 13 sacks of oysters, well below the daily limit of 30 sacks. Climate change, the dead zone and overharvesting all play a role.