The Gulf of Mexico, a large oceanic basin that borders Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to the north, and Mexico’s eastern shoreline and the Yucatán Peninsula to the south, contains nearly 60 percent of the land area of the continental United States, including some of the most fertile lands in the world.
Because of its considerable size and diversity of habitat types, the Gulf is home to a highly valuable array of natural resources that includes habitat for nesting waterfowl, colonial waterbirds and sea turtles, as well as fisheries — all supported by its abundant bays, estuaries, tidal flats and barrier islands.
The coastal habitats of the Gulf of Mexico are particularly rich and productive because they receive inputs from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine sources.
Conservation Challenges and Opportunities
The coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico are linked by more than just the water they share. They are collectively impacted by stresses from their inland environment, which demands that conservation cross traditional boundaries — in the face of climate change, this also offers opportunities for conservation.
Many activities already stress these natural systems, but climate-caused sea level rise, storm surges and hurricanes are perhaps the most severe threat. Some high projections show an average sea level rise of nearly 20-inches in the Gulf Coast in the next 50 years, which will shrink and destroy important natural areas.
Communities Depending on Nature
The Gulf Coast’s human communities cannot exist without healthy, strong and resilient ecosystems to provide protection and ecological services. Increased stresses from the effects of global climate change could therefore lead to a substantial reduction of the system’s capacity to generate the important ecological services, such as fishing, coastal protection and nutrient removal.
Additionally, the plant and animals species on which people rely need a place and the space to ensure resiliency — protected areas where they can move upland or inland as the sea rises. These buffers will reduce impacts of storms on our human communities, as well as on natural ones.
Partnering for solutions
Through the five-state Governors’ Gulf of Mexico Alliance, the Conservancy and its partners are undertaking climate change adaptation projects that will create regional management tools to enhance the resiliency of the Gulf Coast for nature and for the human communities that rely on these ecosystems for their livelihoods.
Additionally, the partners will develop data, models and methodologies to inform decision-makers, resource managers and community leaders how coastlines will change as a result of sea level rise, thus enabling them to make decisions that will protect local communities while enhancing the resilience of the entire Gulf system.