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Photo credit: Scott Carr
From: CSD, 2004; NEFSC, 2004; MSU- CARES, 2004.

The Gulf of Mexico's diverse and productive ecosystems, which provide a variety of valuable resources and services to the region, are becoming imperiled by pollution. The once pristine waters of the Gulf are now pasty. The adverse impact of the environmental degradation on the birds, marine mammals, fish, crustaceans and other organisms dependent upon the Gulf cannot be over-emphasized. Tankers and other large cargo ships travelling through the Gulf are thought to contribute significantly to the problem by adding debris and chemical pollutants to the water. Debris and chemicals from land sources, such as materials from waste disposal facilities, effluents from waste water treatment plants, and post-storm runoff derived from urban and agricultural sites, compound the problem. While different types of pollutants affect the biota in varying fashion (physical entanglement, consumption of non-digestible materials, direct toxicity from chemicals,indirect effects from excessive nutrient input), the overall effect is a diminution in the variety and abundance of the flora and fauna of the region. This in turn has wide-reaching implications for the long term health of the Gulf and, subsequently, for the sustainability of fishing industries, as well as industries that support recreation and tourism.

Examples of annual pollutant and nutrient loading in the region are:
* over 800,000 tons of nitrogen
* over 200,000 tons of phosphorus
* 100 million tons of dredged sediments
* over 2,000 tons of toxic substances from coastal industrial and municipal sites (four of the top five states in the U.S. in total surface discharge of toxic chemicals are Gulf States - Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas)
* approximately 1,000 tons of pesticides from coastal agriculture
* over 6,000 tons of produced waters from near-shore oil and gas platforms

To address the beach debris problem, the Gulf of Mexico has been established as a special area under the international MARPOL treaty, which regulates marine pollution around the world. Under the treaty, the dumping of solid wastes by any boat from any nation is prohibited in a special area. The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation , an agency created under NAFTA's (North American Free Trade Agreement) environmental side agreement, is also working with environmental groups and nonprofit agencies in the region to encourage industries to report exactly which effluents they are releasing into the Gulf. In the United States, the US Geological Survey (USGS), through the South Florida Information Access (SOFIA) undertakes various research projects and programs to monitor and restore the South Florida Ecosystem. To keep the Gulf of Mexico healthy and productive, the US Environmental Protection Agency through the Gulf of Mexico Program sponsors the Gulf Guardian Awards each year to recognize those individuals, companies, agencies and organizations that are doing their part to keep the Gulf of Mexico clean.

Center for Sustainable Design (CSD)- Best Management Practices for Urban and Suburban Development. Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at:

Mississippi State University - Coordinated Access to the Research and Extension Service (MSU,CARES). Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at:

North East Fisheries Center(NEFSC). Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem. Viewed on the web on February 24, 2010 at:

Additional Information:
US Environmental Protection Agency / Gulf of Mexico Program - The Gulf of Mexico - A Resource at Risk
Center for Sustainable Design - Best Management Practices for Urban and Suburban Development
Gulf of Mexico Land Based Pollution Sources Inventory

Keywords:   Pollution, Oil, Debris, Sediment, Runoff, Contamination

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