The five US Gulf Coast states, if considered an individual country, would rank seventh in global gross domestic product - tied with Russia, and larger than Brazil.
The southern margins of the United States can be divided into two approximately equal sections. One half, the Southwest Border Area, shares a long land boundary with Mexico and includes an extensive inland area that has experienced many influences from that country. The other half, traces the coastline eastward from the mouth of the Rio Grande River in Texas to North Carolina and includes the Florida peninsula. Both stretches are southerly in latitude, and they share a small area of overlap in southern Texas, but the Southern Coastlands is as distinct from the Southwest Border Area as are any other two adjacent regions in America.
The Southern Coastlands is distinctive for two primary reasons. First, it has a humid, subtropical environment. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico also contribute a strong maritime influence to the coastlands' climate. The region has a clear appeal to visitors and potential residents, and its agriculture is distinctive because of this environment. Second, the region's role in generating U.S. trade patterns with the rest of the world and its distinctive industrial pattern also help to define it.
A third factor relevant to the character of the region is its position between the Deep South and Latin America. The cultural influences on the region from Latin America were buffered for a long time by the water separating most of the Coastlands' population from their neighbors. But in recent decades, the growth of the population of Cuban heritage in southern Florida and the intensification of trade between Latin America and the United States has emphasized the distinctive character of this region.
There are many histories to be told of the Gulf region. The European related history of the Gulf Coast dates from the Age of Discovery and covers an immense area, for the Spanish claim included the western coast of Florida that ran from the tip of the peninsula around to Tampa Bay, Pensacola, Mobile, the Mississippi Delta, and the Texas coast past Padre Island to the mouth of the Río Grande. The Bourbon Family Pact between France and Spain made possible for Spanish occupation of Louisiana, which lasted nearly forty years beginning in 1763.
The Gulf of Mexico boasts rich culture, vital natural resources, billions of dollars in economic activity, and generations of unique history — all of which make it an indispensable part of the nation. The millions of people who call the region home as well as visitors from across America and around the world are drawn to the Gulf Coast’s abundant natural resources, its diverse communities and cultures, and a way of life that is truly one-of-a-kind.
The Gulf ecosystem and its natural resources are important to the U.S. economy, producing 30 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2009. The region provides more than 90 percent of the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas production, 33 percent of the nation’s seafood, 13 of the top 20 ports by tonnage in the United States in 2009, and significant recreation and tourism benefits.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a reminder of the delicate balance among the environment, the economy and public health in the region. However, the oil spill was only the most recent in a long line of negative environmental impacts (e.g., hypoxic zone, and effects from navigation canals and energy pipelines) that have plagued the Gulf states for decades.
Although the Gulf Coast has significant natural resource and economic value, its long-term future is not secure. Gulf Coast states have experienced coastal land loss due to the alteration of natural hydrology and other human activities, as well as from events such as tropical storms and hurricanes. The building of levees on the Mississippi River and its tributaries since the 18th century has contributed to depriving once-thriving wetlands and barrier islands of the freshwater, sediments and nutrients they need to survive. Sediment is essential to the Gulf ecosystem, where coastal Louisiana was formed over the course of 7,000 years by deltaic processes, including intermittent flooding of the Mississippi River, which delivered sediment to different coastal regions. Studies indicate that geologic land subsidence exacerbates sea-level rise impacts. Since the 1930s, the coast of Louisiana has lost over 2,000 square miles (25-35 square miles per year) of wetlands — a land mass roughly the size of Delaware.
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