The Gulf of Mexico's Ecosystem
The Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem provides the United States with abundant seafood, valuable energy resources, extraordinary beaches and leisure activities, and a rich cultural heritage.
As the ninth largest water body in the world, the Gulf of Mexico teems with sea life, from shrimp to unexplored deep-water corals living thousands of feet below the surface. Its coastal areas contain half the wetlands in the United States and are home to vital natural resources, including nesting waterfowl, colonial waterbird rookeries, sea turtles, and fisheries. These resources are supported by rich natural habitats, including bays, estuaries, tidal flats, barrier islands, hard and soft wood forests, and mangrove swamps. The Gulf is home to many state and national parks and habitat and wildlife preservation areas as a result of its size and ecological diversity. Furthermore, the Gulf region's ecological communities are crucial to sustaining important economic and recreational industries.
The five U.S. States that border the Gulf of Mexico (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) have a gross domestic product of over $2 trillion. Much of that economic activity is dependent on or related to the Gulf of Mexico and the health of its coastal natural resources.
The Gulf of Mexico's habitats include coastal wetlands, submerged vegetation, important upland areas, and marine and offshore areas. Encompassing over five million acres (about half of the U.S. total), the Gulf's coastal wetlands serve as an essential habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species, including migrating waterfowl (about 75 percent traversing the U.S.), seabirds, wading birds, furbearers, and sport and commercial fisheries.
Comprised of tidal, subtidal, and freshwater wetland habitats, the nearshore environment of the Gulf of Mexico's estuaries supports diverse and dynamic communities of organisms and provide a biologically rich breeding ground in a temperate to tropical climate region.
Commercial Fishing and Seafood
Commercial fishing has a long history along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Le Page du Pratz in his 1758 Histoire de la Louisiane, wrote of observing shrimp being fished in the lakes south of New Orleans using nets from France. Shrimp were first canned commercially in Louisiana as early as 1867 at Grand Terre Island. Shrimping is a way of life and a family tradition in Louisiana extending well back into the 19th century and earlier.
Today, Louisiana is second only to Alaska in terms of both tonnage and dockside revenues from commercial fishing. Seven of the top 50 seafood landing ports in the United States are in south Louisiana. Three of these ports, Empire-Venice, Intracoastal City and Cameron, are in the top 6 seafood landing ports nationwide. Nearly 75 percent of the fish landed in the Gulf of Mexico come through a Louisiana port.
The importance of estuarine-dependent species to the commercial fish landings varies by region, depending greatly on the strength of the estuaries. For the Gulf of Mexico, the top estuarine-dependent species constitute 89 percent of the value of landings, whereas California and Pacific Island landings are only 13 percent estuarine-dependent. As of 2008, the region boasted 1.3 billion pounds of commercial fishery landings per year, yielding a value of $662 million. Eighty-three percent of U.S. shrimp landings and 56 percent of U.S. oyster landings are in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf Coast is widely regarded as one of the top ten recreational fishing spots in the world. More than three million recreational fishers take part in over 24 million fishing trips each year. Annual expenditures related to recreational salt water fishing generates more than $12 billion in sales including equipment, bait, boats (including charter boats), food, lodging and transportation, and supports more than 113,000 jobs throughout the Gulf region. The Gulf of Mexico accounts for over 40 percent of all U.S. marine recreational fishing catches.
The Gulf of Mexico's sun, sandy beaches and water sports, excellent seafood restaurants and resorts, and ideal warm weather attract visitors from all over the United States and the world. Visitors spend in excess of $34 billion which sustains over 620,000 jobs.
Oil & Gas
The exploration and removal of petroleum is a large and historic industry in Louisiana. The first successful offshore venture occurred in 1938, with rapid expansion following for the next 50 years. By 1986, the United States government had leased nearly 500 million acres of offshore property and allowed the establishment of more than 5,000 drilling sites. The oil and gas industry is vital to the state of Louisiana's economy. According to the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, 80 percent of the U.S. offshore rigs are located on Louisiana's Outer Continental Shelf, and along with offshore production, the state is the top producer of crude oil and the second largest producer of natural gas in the country. The oil industry employs over 58,000 Louisianians and has created more than 260,000 oil-related jobs. Forty-two percent of those sites were located in the Gulf of Mexico. Ninety percent of the U.S. oil and natural gas production comes from the well currently operating in the Gulf representing one-third of our nation's energy.