The Gulf of Mexico is “America’s Sea.” Surrounded
by Central and North America, it’s the ninth largest ocean basin in the world, covering
almost 600,000 square miles. That’s twice the size of Texas.
With over fifteen thousand four hundred species found in the Gulf, It’s no surprise that the
Gulf is one of the most productive waters in the world for aquatic organisms. It provides
habitat for many of our most important seafoods. And the Gulf is productive in other ways too.
It holds one of the largest reserves of oil and gas in the world. This combination of
ecosystem productivity, energy importance, and accessibility has made it one of the most
important waters on Earth to people. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most threatened by human
actions and neglect. The Gulf is filled with saltwater, but it’s
the freshwater inflows from watersheds on land that greatly affect the health and productivity
of the aquatic life there. The freshwater inflow brings nutrients that promote growth
of phytoplankton and zooplankton, the base of an extensive food chain that includes many
forms of marine life. Even the federally endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle has found refuge
in the Gulf, making one of it’s most important nesting sites at the Padre Island National
Seashore, the longest undeveloped barrier island in the United States.
But along with nutrients, inflow also brings waste, fertilizers, and other pollutants.
Humans control the quality and quantity of freshwater inflows that reach the Gulf. How
will we protect this important aquatic resource? We must make wise decisions about freshwater
inflow and how we use and enjoy this majestic body of water.
The future of America’s sea depends on us.