The Gulf of Mexico is the ninth largest ocean basin in the world, covering almost 600,000 square miles. This is twice the size of Texas. At its deepest point the bottom is 2.7 miles underwater, but most of the Gulf is much shallower. About 60% of the Gulf is less than 700 feet deep. The Gulf is one of the most productive waters in the world for aquatic organisms. It provides habitat for many of our most important seafoods. The Gulf is productive in other ways, too. The Gulf holds one of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, leading to an extensive petroleum industry. The Gulf’s combination of ecosystem productivity, industrial importance, and accessibility has made it one of the most important waters to people on Earth as well as one of the most threatened by human actions and neglect.
Everything that happens on the land in a watershed affects the water body into which it drains. A stream, pond or wetland can only be as healthy as its watershed. How we use the land affects the health of our aquatic resources, and in turn affects us and what we do in the watershed. In a healthy watershed, water is filtered and stored, but as water runs downhill, it can pick up whatever is on the ground beginning a process of altering water quality. When it flows through cities or across fields and pastures, water picks up dirt, pollutants, and heat. These contaminants flow into a stream, wetland or lake, affecting the water you use to drink, swim, or fish.