Despite warnings earlier this year that the 2013 dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico would be large, new reports indicated that it is smaller than expected, but is still significantly larger than a federal task force’s goal.

The dead zone is blamed on fertilizer and nutrient runoff from Midwest farmers’ fields. The runoff creates an oxygen-free zone where fish cannot survive because algae grows. When the algae die off they consume the oxygen in the water, which either kills the fish life or forces it to flee the zone.

Researchers expected a near-record dead zone this year at 7,300 to 8,600 square miles due to heavy spring rains and unused fertilizer runoff from last year’s drought-stricken crops, the Des Moines Register reported.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the dead zone in 2012 was 2,889 square miles as was the fourth smallest on record due to the drought.

Although the dead zone was smaller this year, researchers reported that oxygen levels were relatively high even in the dead zone. Researchers also said high winds in the southern part of the Gulf contributed to keeping the dead zone smaller this year.

The news comes after Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey told farmers at a Farm Bureau event last week that the way to solve the region’s fertilizer runoff and dead zone problems was to adopt voluntary projects outlined in the state’s new Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

After the new results about the dead zone in the Gulf were released, The Gulf Restoration Network reiterated that numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus are needed to help curb the problem.