What is the Gulf of Mexico Program
The Gulf of Mexico Program was initiated in 1988 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a non-regulatory program. Founded on the threefold principles of partnership, science-based information, and citizen involvement, the Gulf Program joined the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay Programs as flagships of the nation's efforts to apply an adaptive management approach to large coastal freshwater and marine ecosystems. The mission of the Program is to facilitate collaborative actions to protect, maintain, and restore the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico in ways consistent with the economic well-being of the Region.
The Program provides a broad geographic focus on the major environmental issues in the Gulf, and from its inception, was envisioned as a multiagency partnership endeavor based on the simple premise that no one agency or institution alone has the technical skills, financial resources, or legislative authority needed to resolve the environmental or natural resource problems confronting an ecological system the size of the Gulf. The Program's success comes from its ability to engage many people across the Gulf region for leadership and to implement projects that move in an environmentally and economically sound direction.
As a result of a shared vision for a healthy and resilient Gulf of Mexico coast, the Governors of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas formalized the Gulf of Mexico Alliance in 2004. Thirteen federal agencies committed to supporting the Alliance and formed a Federal Workgroup with EPA's Gulf of Mexico Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of the Interior serving as co-leads. The Alliance released the Governors' Action Plan I in 2006 which was intended to be a dynamic starting point to set the stage for a long-term regional partnership. Developed using input from Gulf citizens and supported by specific state and federal agency resource commitments, the Action Plan set out projects to deliver significant on-the-ground results. Capitalizing on the momentum of the first Plan, a second Action Plan covering five years and addressing some of the more pressing issues affecting the Gulf region was released in 2009.
The Gulf of Mexico is a vast and productive body of water that is of tremendous value in ecological, economic, and social terms. The Gulf's vastness and diversity often mask the fundamental relationships between the living and the non-living workings of this magnificent ecological system. Over many years, the resource productivity and water quality of the Gulf of Mexico and its watershed have been diminished by point and nonpoint source pollution. The Gulf Coast has experienced overwhelming population growth in the last 30 years and is proven ground for major marine industries such as commercial seafood, oil and gas production, and shipping. If not balanced properly, a thriving Gulf Coast economy presents challenges to healthy ecosystems and their natural functions.
There are numerous threats to the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including the world's second largest zone of hypoxia or "dead zone" which affects the region's seafood production. The Gulf Coast will continue to experience significant destructive coastal storms, and climate change and the associated predicted sea-level rise are sure to cause physical changes to the Gulf Coast. From upland rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, water quality is influenced by a variety of factors which are harmful to human health and negatively impact beaches and seafood , i.e. pathogens and harmful algal blooms.
The physical magnitude of the Gulf is both its strength and its weakness. Its size and diversity contribute to its productivity, yet they also contribute to a sense of complacency with regard to day-to-day human activities and their unintended consequences. There are four major challenges to healthy and resilient communities in the Gulf region: (1) Sustaining the Gulf Economy; (2) Improving the Gulf Ecology; (3) Mitigating Impacts of Climate Change, and (4) Mitigating Harmful Effects of Coastal Water Quality.
The Gulf Program is successful because of the partnerships that make it work. Spanning the broad range of environmental concerns from local to regional and national presents a significant challenge to the agencies and organizations that have partnered under the banner of the Gulf of Mexico Program. The Gulf of Mexico Program has developed multiple jurisdictional agreements with federal and state partners as well as international partners:
- 1988 - A Federal Advisory Committee structure was established with a network of over 400 participants Gulf-wide.
- 1992 - Partnership for Action Agreement, a landmark agreement for the Gulf Program, was signed pledging state and federal agencies to work on a common set of five-year environmental challenges
- 1995 - Gulf of Mexico Participation Agreement signed by 22 agencies agreeing to leveraging of relevant authorities, resources, and technical assistance.
- 2004 - U.S./Mexico Binational Agreement supported Red Tide monitoring, sampling, and reporting protocols by 11 binational states bordering the Gulf of Mexico
- 2006 - Gulf of Mexico Governors' Action Plan I released.
- 2009 - Gulf of Mexico Governors' Action Plan II released
- 2009 - Gulf of Mexico Program/Veracruz, Mexico MOU signed regarding harmful algal blooms observing system
The Gulf of Mexico Alliance identified issues that are regionally significant and can be effectively addressed through increased collaboration at the local, state, and federal levels. These priorities represent an initial focus for action through the Alliance and align with the Gulf of Mexico Program priority issues:
- Water Quality for healthy beaches and shellfish beds
- Habitat conservation and restoration
- Ecosystems integration and assessment
- Nutrient reduction and nutrient impacts
- Coastal community resiliency
- Environmental education
The Gulf of Mexico Program reflects upon 20 years of collaboration and environmental accomplishments to the benefit of the Gulf communities. With the cooperation of its partners, the Program successfully implements water quality and ecological recovery programs. The Program's cooperative approach includes:
- Delisting approximately 109 rivers and streams from EPA's list of polluted waterways
- Supporting the Gulf States with 543 projects in characterizing some of the most difficult environmental issues confronting coastal waters and in implementing a wide variety of demonstration projects and studies that offer solutions to those problems
- Protecting over 25,000 acres of coastal marine habitat
- Designating all six Coastal Education Learning Centers, one in each Gulf state and in Veracruz, Mexico
- Assisting the Gulf Alliance to fulfill 99 percent of the 2006 Governors' Action Plan
- Commemorating the people and agencies working together to protect the Gulf's ecosystems through 170 Gulf Guardian Awards
- Supporting international efforts by implementing integrated binational (U.S. and Mexico) early-warning detection systems for coastal community management of harmful algal blooms.
- Supporting the goals and actions identified in the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan
The Gulf of Mexico Region is experiencing the power of regional collaboration and partnerships. The results of the first Governors' Action Plan exceeded initial expectations, identifying specific actions needed to improve the health of the coastal areas and to improve the quality of life for the Gulf's citizens. Significant accomplishments have been achieved and lasting partnerships were established; however, the Gulf coast ecosystems are still at risk with challenges for years to come. To build on the success of the partnerships, the Governors' Action Plan II, released in June 2009, is a far-reaching, five-year regional blueprint for 2009-2014 to increase the health of the ecology and economy of the Gulf and address the most pressing issues affecting the Gulf Region. The Gulf of Mexico Program will continue to enhance and expand effective working partnerships to identify and resolve environmental issues in the Gulf ecosystem. We will continue creating a Gulf that flourishes in all its natural richness and variety, while embracing the needs and desires of its people.