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In this Issue (Gulf Coast Ecosystems)

The recent oil spill cast an intense spotlight on the Gulf of Mexico, but many would argue that this level of attention to the Gulf is long overdue.

By Amy Nelson

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Together, Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cast a rather intense spotlight on the Gulf of Mexico. But many would argue that this level of attention to the Gulf is long overdue.

Bordered by five U.S. states to the north, five Mexican states to the west, and the island of Cuba to the southeast, the Gulf of Mexico is the 9th largest body of water in the world. Spanning over 600,000 square miles and including more than 100 estuaries along the U.S. coastline alone, the Gulf region offers a wide array of habitats including coastal marshes, mangroves, dunes, coral and hardbottom communities, and submerged aquatic vegetation, to name a few. In fact, the Gulf Coast’s mix of currents, climates, and habitats make it one of the most biologically rich regions on the planet. Not surprisingly, it has become an economic engine supporting commercial and recreational fishing, energy exploration, and tourism.

The Gulf’s bounty of natural resources fuels and feeds much of our nation, yet the actions of humans have put its ecological health at risk. Can the Gulf handle the physical and chemical alterations we have made to its contributing waters? Can it withstand the rate at which we extract its resources? Just how resilient is the Gulf? Are people even aware of what is at risk?

We’ll begin to examine these questions as we chat with noted Louisiana wetlands ecologist, Dr. Robert Twilley. Referring to the Gulf as “genetic soup,” Dr. Tilley tells us why he thinks the Gulf Coast is one of the most fascinating biological systems in the world.

Landscape Architect Jennifer Dowdell reminds us that not all threats to the Gulf come from its immediate surroundings in her article Dead Zones in The Gulf: Reaping What Is Sown Upriver.

Senior Ecologist Terry Doss draws a parallel between the robust spirit of the people of New Orleans and hardiness of the region’s wetlands in The Resilience of New Orleans.

We’ll share some links and helpful resources on the Gulf and news about some exciting work we’re doing in the Gulf region and beyond.

What do you think about all of this? Share your thoughts on our blog, Rhizome, or make a comment on the Biohabitats Facebook page. If you want to reference a specific article, be sure to include it in your post.

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