The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is rendered uninhabitable by marine life because of pollutants from the Mississippi River, was larger than ever this year, according to researchers at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The zone topped out at 7,728 square miles in July — that is, about the size of New Jersey and 700 square miles larger than the previous peak in 1995. Agricultural runoff into the Mississippi is the main source of pollution, contributing an excess of nutrients such as nitrogen to the Gulf and ultimately starving the water of the oxygen needed by marine life to survive. A federal task force has drafted a management plan for nutrient overload in the Mississippi River basin; the proposed report is open for comment until Dec. 20.