NOAA in the Region
Regional Snapshots – Gulf of Mexico Region
The Gulf of Mexico region is home to coastal communities that are inextricably linked to the diverse natural resources supported by the Gulf of Mexico and its coastal habitats and wildlife. This link and the shared experience of recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike have helped define the Gulf of Mexico as one region shared by five states and many vibrant coastal communities. Increasing recognition of interdependencies and advantages of regional partnerships is now bringing the region together on the path through recovery and restoration to emerge a stronger, more resilient region.
Geography and Environment
The Gulf of Mexico is a 218,000 square mile semi-closed, oceanic basin that is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Straits of Florida and to the Caribbean Sea by the Yucatan Channel. The region experiences some of the most severe weather in the world, including major hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms. The 17.2 million acres of marsh and nearly 30,000 miles of coastal tidal shoreline provide many opportunities for millions of tourists who flock to this beautiful area of the country. Watersheds from 33 of the 48 contiguous states drain into the Gulf of Mexico.
As the ninth largest body of water in the world, the Gulf of Mexico teems with sea life, from shrimp in the coastal estuaries to deep-water corals living thousands of feet below the surface. Coastal areas are home to a wide variety of living resources, including waterfowl, estuarine shellfish, sea turtles, and fish.
Social and Economic Context
Abundant natural and living resources provide the basis for a thriving Gulf Coast economy. Industries such as tourism, commercial fishing, oil and gas, and shipping contribute significantly to the Gulf economy and employ millions of people region wide. However, significant economic benefits bring rising population, creating severe stress on the very same natural resources that provide the economic engine for the region. Therefore, it is imperative to realize that the health of the diverse ecosystems of the Gulf is the primary indicator of sustainable coastal economies.
The region is one of the most productive areas for natural resources in the country. Over 90% of the U.S. oil and gas production occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, providing billions of dollars to the regional economy. Shipping and ship building are also multi-billion dollar industries, with two of the largest ports in the world, Houston and New Orleans, in the region.
The Gulf of Mexico region is a vital economic engine for the nation, supplying trillions of dollars annually to the U.S. economy and providing jobs for millions of people. The Gulf is a proven ground for major marine industries such as commercial seafood, oil and gas production, and shipping. If not balanced properly, a thriving Gulf Coast economy can present challenges to healthy ecosystems and their natural functions.
Recreation, leisure, and tourism industries, such as recreational fishing, have also become increasingly significant throughout much of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico supports the largest recreational fisheries in the nation, as well as valuable commercial fisheries, including shrimp and red snapper.
Much of the economic activity in the Gulf Coast is dependent on or related to a healthy Gulf ecosystem. Coastal and marine planners in the Gulf region are faced with a complex environment in which to make decisions regarding protection, restoration, enhancement and management of various coastal and natural resources.
Challenges and Drivers
There are numerous threats to Gulf ecosystems, including the one of the world’s largest areas of hypoxia, or “dead zone.” Each year, the dead zone sharply affects the region’s seafood production, illustrating the enormity and complexity of the threats facing the region’s ecosystem and, subsequently the region’s economy. With the disaster of the Deepwater Horizon event, the challenges and drivers in the Gulf of Mexico have been magnified in both scope and expectations. To address these challenges, regional collaboration and coordination will be increasingly important as well as even more challenging.
Priority challenges include integrating science and information to support the many new regional initiatives; coordinating among many governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders; leveraging still limited resources to reduce duplication and prioritize actions; educating stakeholders on the importance of coastal ecosystems; and facilitating science-based management decisions and adaptive management approaches to understand progress toward achieving our shared goals.
The ecological effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be a long-term challenge for resource managers in the Gulf of Mexico. It is critical to understand, monitor, and manage for ecological effects on ecosystem services and wildlife populations. The socio-economic impacts are equally important and may persist for many years.The Deepwater Horizon oil spill added to, and in many ways compounded, prior stresses on the Gulf of Mexico region’s ecosystem and economy. As a working coastline and a center for coastal recreational activities, the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem faces many challenges. Growing coastal populations, extensive commercial and marine fisheries, traditional and emerging energy industry, and marine transportation both benefit and produce stressors for the region.
NOAA in Your State
To view a summary of NOAA facilities, staff, programs, or activities based in, or focused on, your state or territory, please click here. This site has a list available as an MS Word document and/or PDF by each state.
NOAA in the Gulf of Mexico Region
The Gulf region has many capabilities both within NOAA and through our extended partnerships with other federal and state resource agencies, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, universities, and non-governmental organizations. Together we are addressing priorities to collectively address major challenges to healthy and resilient communities in the Gulf region. Many of these challenges are exemplified by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance’s Priority Issues: water quality, habitat conservation and restoration, ecosystem integration and assessment, nutrients and nutrient impacts, coastal community resilience, and environmental education. NOAA plays a critical role in the stewardship of valuable Gulf of Mexico resources by leading efforts for better science in support of habitat restoration, sustainable growth, and developing hazard resilient communities.
The Gulf of Mexico region contains expertise across the full suite of NOAA’s disciplines, including the areas of hurricane response, climate change, integrated assessments of ecosystems, community resilience, citizen engagement, coral reefs, habitat restoration and conservation, protected resources’ critical habitats, fisheries and aquaculture, energy resources, and ports and shipping. This diverse expertise is reflected in the Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team, with members from across the region and all Line Offices. The strength of each component is amplified by the regional collaboration effort, which coordinates activities from across the agency with those of partners to accomplish larger-picture outcomes.