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Habitat is defined as an area that provides the food, water, cover and space that a living organism needs to survive and reproduce. Recent studies and observations indicate that the once teeming and vibrant Gulf of Mexico is gradually going over the edge of sustainability by any reckoning due to coastal habitat and wetland loss. Decades of widespread habitat destruction are evident throughout the region due to the rapid growth in human population and resource consumption. Coastal wetland losses have been recorded in Galveston Bay, Texas, the Barataria and Terrebonne basins, Louisiana, and in the Gulf coast of Florida. Regionally, certain areas have exceptional problems. Texas has estimated that over one-third of its approximately one million acres of coastal marshes may have been lost between the mid-1950's and the mid-1970's. In areas like Louisiana's marshes, land loss rates approaching 155.4 square km per year have been observed. It is currently estimated that 50 percent of the Gulf of Mexico’s inland and coastal wetlands have been lost and that up to 80 percent of the Gulf's sea grasses have been lost in some areas. Factors contributing to habitat loss in the region include increase in residential, commercial, agricultural and coastal development along the Gulf. Over-fishing and estuarine habitat quality losses due to pollution and hypoxia are also contributing factors. Their impacts on the economy and subsequent way of life of the people in the region cannot be overemphasized. Habitat losses in the Gulf have caused a decline in fish and wildlife populations, reduced biodiversity, increased risk to threatened and endangered species and reduced opportunities for recreation.
The Gulf of Mexico's coastal wetlands are of special interest because:
* The gulf is an exceptionally productive sea that yields more than 1.1 billion kg of fish and shellfish (approximately 40 percent of the U.S. commercial fish yield) annually and contains two of the world’s busiest ports: the ports of Houston in Texas and New Orleans in Louisiana.
* The Gulf provides critical habitat for 75 percent of migratory waterfowl traversing the United States.
* Ninety percent of U.S. offshore oil and gas comes from the Gulf.
* Of the world's seas, only four have more surface than the Gulf's 1507.4 square km.
Currently, US states within the region are supporting policies and research to protect, restore and enhance the coastal and marine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its coastal natural habitats through their conservation and natural resource departments. Other organizations are also sponsoring initiatives that provide a regional framework for focusing attention on ecologically important Gulf habitats. The US Environmental Protection Agency's Gulf of Mexico Program is currently conducting research, monitoring, restoration and management projects in selected sites along the Gulf through its National Estuary Program's (NEP) Habitat restoration program, and Gulf Ecological Management Sites (GEMS) program. Other Organizations conducting research to support decision-making, resource management and restoration efforts in the Gulf include the USGS-SOFIA program, The Caribbean Environment Program and The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) established in the US. Local research activities are also currently underway in the region to address the problem. The Charlotte Harbor Initiative is one example where a coordinated and multi-disciplinary study is being done to determine the ecological health of Charlotte Harbor in southwestern Florida.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at: http://w3.noaa.gov/nmfs/problem.html
Onegulf.org. Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at: http://www.onegulf.org/gomfacts.html
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- Gulf of Mexico Program (GMP). Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at: http://www.epa.gov/gmpo/pdf/health_oceans1.pdf
United States Geological Survey(USGS). Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at: http://biology.usgs.gov/s+t/noframe/m4144.htm
US EPA (Habtat Protection) - National Estuary Progam (NEP) Sites in the Gulf of Mexico
Carribean Environment Program - Protecting Endangered Species and Sensitive Habitats
Mote Marine Laboratory - Charlotte Harbor Initiative
Keywords: Habitat, Fish, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Ecology, Health
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To cite GulfBase, use: F. Moretzsohn, J.A. Sánchez Chávez, and J.W. Tunnell, Jr., Editors. 2013. GulfBase: Resource Database for Gulf of Mexico Research. World Wide Web electronic publication. http://www.gulfbase.org, 19 May 2013.
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