The Gulf of Mexico is an oceanic basin that lies in North America and was first explored by Amerigo Vespucci in 1497. The Gulf is home to different flora and fauna species and is a great economic source for oil explorers. Human activities in and around the Gulf of Mexico such as shipwrecks, oils spills, and agricultural practices have continued to affect the ecosystem negatively. The Gulf is recognized for its diversity and productivity.
The Gulf of Mexico covers an area of 615,000 square miles bordering Mexico, Cuba and the US States of Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Florida. The Gulf was formed as a result of the movements of Tectonic Plates over 300 million years ago. The Gulf of Mexico is 930 miles wide and oval in shape with approximately half being made up of shallow continental shelf waters. The Gulf is connected to both the Atlantic Ocean through the Florida Straits and to the Caribbean Sea through the Yucatan Channel. The Gulf is estimated to contain over 660 quadrillion gallons of water and variety of unique aquatic biota.
The Gulf of Mexico was used as an exploration route by early Europeans in order to explore the Americas. With their discovery of Cuba and Mexico, Spain led a military invasion through the Gulf to conquer and colonize Hispaniola, Cuba, and Mexico. With time, Gulf of Mexico became an excellent avenue for trade, including the slave trade. Due to its characteristics, many shipwrecks were reported in the Gulf, something that prompted more settlement of Europeans in the lands surrounding the Gulf in order to minimize the number of shipments from Europe. The French also re-explored the Gulf and discovered most of its unique features.
The Gulf’s big size (which is almost half of the entire US) provides a habitat for aquatic species and birds. The Gulf of Mexico also provides aquatic scientists with good grounds for research on marine life, leading to the discovery of some endemic species as well as effects of pollution. Due to the presence of oil underground below the Gulf, many oil and gas wells have been drilled for exploration and mining. The Gulf has helped define natural heritage, culture and commerce between Cuba and the US (though rare), and Cuba and Mexico.
Habitat and Biodiversity
There are different animal and plant species in the Gulf. There are chemosynthetic and non-chemosynthetic organisms that include different sizes ranging from microorganisms to macroorganisms. Species found in the gulf of Mexico include the Bryde’s whale, finfish, shrimp, sea pens, crabs, benthos and others. Most of these species have been affected by the oil spills and pollution. Bryde’s whale was recently declared an endemic species.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
The Gulf of Mexico contains species of algae that kill fish and other marine mammals and cause breathing problems in humans and animals. Agricultural activities around the Gulf have also led to the increase in nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the aquatic ecosystem. Oil exploration and abandoned oil and gas wells that have not been assessed for any environmental effects that they may have continued to destroy the marine life. The 1979 Ixtoc Oil Platform Explosion resulted in the oil spill that lasted close to a year. There was also an explosion in 2010 whose effects are still being witnessed. There have been minor oil spills with the last one being in 2016. The Gulf has been at the center of territorial disputes between the three countries. Cuba and Mexico reached an agreement in 1976, but this has done little to solve disputes between the two nations. From the early 1970s Cuba and the US have agreed on several boundary disputes in the Gulf. Most of the disputes are still pending despite having international arbitration.
Gulf of Mexico Countries
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About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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