We take it for granted – the great Gulf of Mexico. But a close look at the character of this massive body of water provides some insight that the average person may not know. Discover the mysteries of the Great Gulf…
Exactly what role the Gulf has played in the overall history of mankind is still unclear for scientists tell us this mysterious body of deep water predates the earliest records of civilization. But as research continues, more and more evidence is uncovered that hints to the Gulf as being an integral part of the evolution of the human cycle. While what we do know about the Gulf is rather amazing in itself, it’s what we don’t know that represents the bigger picture.
For example, Indian mounds on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge were built 450 years before the first Egyptian pyramid. In Southern Mississippi state we can visit the community of Biloxi, but do you know the meaning of the word “Biloxi”? In an ancient North American dialect it translates loosely to “The First People,” prompting some to speculate that a great civilization of men may have existed long before recorded history, perhaps even the first great civilization of the world.
Indeed, many have speculated that fabled Atlantis, long ago destroyed by cataclysmic destruction, may have been located on a small continent once connected to the Americas. A few suggest that a large comet that plowed into the Gulf millions of years ago may have destroyed Atlantis at the same time the dinosaurs were doomed to extinction.
Early and ancient mariners that stumbled upon the New World and her most mysterious ocean reported many types of phenomenon, from sea monsters to wrathful super storms. Early Spanish explorers plied the Gulf waters in search of fabled cities like El Dorado and Cibola, and many a daring adventurer gave his life in search of the mystical “Fountain of Youth” believed to be located in the Gulf of Mexico region.
Regardless your scholarly take on the origins of mankind, the Gulf offers a number of indisputable facts and figures for your consumption.
Location and Size
The Gulf of Mexico, the ninth largest body of water in the world and referred to as the “Mediterranean of the Americas,” is located at the southeastern corner of North America. The Gulf is bordered by the United States to the north (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas), five Mexican states to the west (Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan), and the island of Cuba to the southeast.
The Gulf region covers approximately 600,000 square miles, measuring approximately 995 miles from east to west, 560 miles from north to south. The marine shoreline from Cape Sable, Florida to the tip of the Yucatan peninsula extends ~ 3,540 miles, with another 236 miles of shore on the northwest tip of Cuba. The U.S. coastline is approximately 1,631 miles; if bays and other inland waters are included, the total shoreline increases to over 16,000 miles in the U.S. alone.
Approximately 38% of Gulf waters are shallow intertidal areas. The waters of the continental shelf and continental slope represent 22% and 20% respectively, and abyssal areas deeper than 3,000 m comprise the final 20%. Located in the southwestern quadrant, the Sigsbee Deep is the deepest region of the Gulf of Mexico and contains depths of up to 13,320 feet.
Circulation and Currents
Water enters the Gulf through the Yucatan Strait, circulates as the Loop Current, and exits through the Florida Strait eventually forming the Gulf Stream. Portions of the Loop Current often break away forming eddies or ‘gyres’ which affect regional current patterns. Smaller wind-driven and tidal currents are created in nearshore environments. Drainage into the Gulf of Mexico is extensive, covering more than 60% of the United States, and includes outlets from 33 major river systems and 207 estuaries. Additional freshwater inputs originate in Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Cuba.
The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem provides a wide array of valuable resources to the nations on its shores.
Gulf fisheries are some of the most productive in the world. In 2006 according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the commercial fish and shellfish harvest from the five U.S. Gulf states was estimated to be 1.3 billion pounds valued at $689 million. The Gulf also contains four of the top seven fishing ports in the nation by weight.
Shrimp: Gulf landings of shrimp led the Nation in 2006 with 288.9 million pounds valued at $400 million dockside, accounting for about 85% of U.S. total. Louisiana led all Gulf states with 134.9 million pounds; Texas with 104.3 million pounds; Florida (west coast) with 17.1 million pounds; Alabama with 23.9 million pounds; and Mississippi with 8.4 million pounds.
Oysters: The Gulf led in production of oysters in 2006 with 19.5 million pounds of meats valued at $61.9 million and representing 60% of the national total.
Recreational: The Gulf also supports a productive recreational fishery. In 2006, marine recreational participants took more than 23.8 million trips catching 190.6 million fish from the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding waters. The total weigh in pounds was over 78.8 million in 2006.
Physical / Mineral
In 2006 470 million barrels of oil and about (2.9)x109 Thousand Cubic Feet of natural gas came from the Gulf of Mexico. In 2005 more than 466 million barrels of oil and about (3.19)x109 Thousand Cubic Feet of natural gas was produced from the Gulf of Mexico. This represents an increase of almost 4 million barrels of oil and (.2)x109 Thousand Cubic Feet of natural gas in one year. According to the Minerals Management Service, offshore operations in the Gulf produce a quarter of the U.S. domestic natural gas and one-eighth of its oil. In addition, the offshore petroleum industry employs over 55,000 U.S. workers in the Gulf.
The Gulf of Mexico’s shores and beaches, offering an ideal location for swimming, sun, and all water sports, supports a $20 billion tourist industry.
The Port of South Louisiana (New Orleans) and the Port of Houston are two of the ten busiest ports in the world by cargo volume. Out of the top ten sea ports in the United States 7 are located on the Gulf of Mexico.