Restoring the Gulf of Mexico and its Wild Inhabitants
The Gulf of Mexico watershed is critically important to the health and vitality of our nation’s natural and economic resources. This vast watershed provides rich soils to feed the nation and oil and gas to power it. The watershed is at the heart of our nation’s outdoor legacy, where 40 percent of all North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds use the Mississippi Flyway. The Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida, is also home to more than 130 federally protected species, most of which are endangered. Restoring this vital area will ensure America continues to thrive well into and beyond the 21st century.
What's at Stake
The Gulf of Mexico is a large and diverse landscape, ecologically rich as a result of coastal geomorphology, climate and hydrology, and its connection to a productive marine environment. This landscape is also rich in culture and history as evidenced by flourishing ports and coastal communities, trade, agriculture, seafood harvest, energy production and tourism.
Few places on the globe match the Gulf of Mexico’s coast in abundance and variety of wildlife. It is home to 132 federally listed species, 95 of which are endangered. They include some of America’s most beloved and iconic species, from the Florida manatee, an aquatic relative of the elephant, to the whooping crane, North America’s tallest bird. The Gulf region provides habitat for millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds and contains the most diverse collection of fish species in the northern hemisphere.
These fish and wildlife resources are supported by an array of some of the world’s most biologically diverse habitats spanning bottomland hardwood forests, cypress swamps, coastal marshes, estuaries and barrier islands.
The natural resources in the five Gulf states are the foundation of a multi-billion dollar economic engine that employs more than 8 million people, produces more than half of America’s crude oil and natural gas, and accounts for the majority of the nation’s annual shrimp and oyster harvest. Hunting, fishing, bird watching and other wildlife-dependent recreation contributes more than $25 billion annually to the region’s economy (2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation).
Over the last century, climate change, sea level rise, habitat conversion and fragmentation, decreasing water quality and quantity, and invasive species have diminished the resiliency of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.
Most alarming is the fate of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Every 38 minutes, another football field of wetlands disappears into the sea, taking with it nature’s best storm protection and water filter, as well as the cradle for sea life in the world’s third largest delta. Natural disasters like hurricanes and manmade disasters like oil spills exacerbate these impacts. As a result, native fish and wildlife populations and their habitats are in decline, imperiling the very fabric that supports the Gulf Coast’s vibrant economy.
In order to achieve a healthy Gulf of Mexico, the Service recognizes conservation must occur throughout the greater Gulf watershed. More than half the continental United States drains to the Gulf of Mexico, as do parts of Mexico and Canada. Society’s investment in the Gulf of Mexico will be at risk if we restore the coastal region but fail to address systemic causes of the water pollution, dead zones, invasive species, and fragmented wildlife habitat that plague it.
Last updated: September 23, 2013