GMF HOME > GULF FACTS > PRINTABLE PAGE

Gulf of Mexico Foundation
Gulf Facts & Threats

(Numbers correspond to references listed at bottom of page)

Geography

  • The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary contains the northernmost tropical coral reefs in the U.S. (4)

  • The Gulf of Mexico links the ports of five southern U.S states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) and six Mexican states (Tamaulipas, Vera Cruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo) with the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. (7)

  • Like the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf is a semi-enclosed, partially land-locked, intercontinental, marginal sea. (3)

  • The United States and Mexico form the Gulf's mainland shore, which extends more than 4,000 miles from the Florida Keys to Cabo Catoche, at the northwestern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.(7)

  • At a depth of more than 12,000 feet, Sigsbee Deep is the deepest part of the gulf. It is more than 300 miles long and is sometimes called the “Grand Canyon under the sea.” Its closest point to the Texas coast is 200 miles southeast of Brownsville. (7)

  • The total area of the Gulf is about 600,000 square miles. (3)

  • The greatest distance across the Gulf is approximately 1,000 miles going east to west. (3)

  • The shortest distance across the Gulf is about 500 miles between the Mississippi Delta and the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. (3)

  • The Gulf's geologic origin remains uncertain. Proposed theories speculate that it is: a foundered and ocean-flooded continental crust; an ocean basin that has been subjected to rifting; or an ancient sea that has existed since the various continents formed a single land mass. (7)

Resources

  • The Gulf of Mexico provides various marine resources which include navigation, recreation, oil and gas, commercial fisheries, oysters, and shell. (7)

  • Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas is the wintering ground of most of the world's whooping cranes in the wild. (7)
  • Carrie Robertson photo


  • Padre Island National Seashore in Texas is the nation's longest stretch of undeveloped beach. (7)

  • Gulf coast ports are served by the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which extends 1,200 miles from Brownsville to Carrabelle, Florida. Approximately eighty million tons of cargo is transported along the coast each year via the Waterway. (7)

  • Louisiana contains 41% of the nation’s coastal wetlands. (3)

History

  • Sebastián de Ocampo, a Spaniard who circumnavigated Cuba in 1508-1509, was credited with the first European discovery of the Gulf. (7)

  • The Gulf was unnamed until the early 1540s and was considered part of the Atlantic Ocean. The Spanish name most often applied to it was Seno Mexicano (seno="gulf" or "bay"), although it was occasionally referred to as Golfo de Nueva España, or Golfo de México. (7)

  • For more than 150 years after its discovery, the Gulf of Mexico was a forbidden area to nations other than Spain. (7)

  • In 1881, Hamilton Diston purchased 4 million acres of land in Florida for 25 cents per acre. His goal was "to drain this worthless swamp you people call Everglades." This resulted in a connection between the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee and on to the Gulf. (3, 2)

  • In 1845 the United States Coast Survey began work in the Gulf of Mexico to create accurate navigational charts. (3)

  • The U.S. Fish Commission began scientific exploration of the deep waters of the Gulf in the 1880s. (3)

Environmental Concerns

  • Various studies and government reports note that 225 Texas acres of topsoil wash into the Gulf each year. Louisiana is similarly plagued, losing more than fifty square miles of topsoil a year to erosion. (7)
  • Carrie Robertson photo
  • The United States Army Corps of Engineers estimates that 60 percent of the Texas shore is eroding, 33 percent stable and seven percent advancing. (7)

  • More than 500 tons of trash washes ashore each year along the Texas coast alone. (7)

  • Gulf coast states (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas) make up four of the top five states responsible for the greatest surface water discharge of toxic chemicals. (6)

  • Ninety three percent of the catch in the north central Gulf is wasted bycatch. (6)

  • As of 1992, nearly 90% of Florida’s approximately 460,000 acres of mangroves occur in the four southernmost counties, and more than 20,000 acres have already been destroyed. (3)

  • Each year 40 to 60 square miles of Louisiana’s wetlands disappear due to natural and human induced impacts. (3)

  • Estimates by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say that by 2040 an area larger than Rhode Island will have disappeared from Louisiana’s coastal margin. (3)

Artificial Reefs

  • Carrie Robertson photoFlorida, which leads the Nation in total number of artificial reefs with more than 300, has reefs built of everything from ships and airplanes to bridge rubble and buses. (1)

  • By 1994, around 60 petroleum structures have been converted to permanent reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. An estimated five platforms in Florida, 19 platforms in Texas, three platforms in Alabama and 36 platforms in Louisiana have been donated on behalf of fishery enhancement. (1)

  • Keeping Texas beaches clean and safe is an economic as well as environmental priority. Coastal tourism, a $7 billion industry, and commercial fishing, a $1.9 billion business, demand clean beaches and a healthy gulf to thrive. (5)

References
1. Congdon, B, and V. Reggio. 1994. Artificial Reefs: Oases for Marine Life in the Gulf  [Accessed Aug 20, 2003].
2. Fort Meyers On-line. 1994. The History of Fort Meyers   [Accessed Aug 21, 2003].
3. Gore, R.H. 1992. The Gulf of Mexico. Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida.
4. Rezak, R., T.J. Bright, and D.W. McGrail. 1985. Reefs and banks of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico; their geological, biological, and physical dynamics. John Wiley and Sons, NY.
5. Texas General Land Office website. 2003. Trashing Texas Beaches Isn’t Cool  [Accessed Aug 21, 2003].
6. Webber, M., R.T. Townsend, R. Bierce. 1992. Environmental Quality in the Gulf of Mexico: A citizens guide. 2nd ed. Center for Marine Conservation, Washington DC.
7. Weddle, R.S. "Gulf of Mexico." The Handbook of Texas Online  [Accessed Aug 20, 2003].

Gulf of Mexico Foundation - PMB 51, 5403 Everhart - Corpus Christi, TX 78411
(800) 884-4175 toll free - (361) 882-3939 phone - (361) 882-1262 fax
e-mail: info@gulfmex.org     website: gulfmex.org
webmaster: Carrie Robertson