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ARTICLE IN PRESS Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757 www.elsevier.com/locate/ocecoaman Environmental


ARTICLE IN PRESS Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757 www.elsevier.com/locate/ocecoaman Environmental
ARTICLE IN PRESS Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757 www.elsevier.com/locate/ocecoaman Environmental

Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757 www.elsevier.com/locate/ocecoaman

Environmental sub-regions in the GulfofMexico coastal zone: the ecosystem approach as an integrated management tool $ , $$

Alejandro Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia a, , John W. Day b

a Coastal Ecosystems Unit, Institute of Ecology A.C. (CONACYT); km. 2.5 Antigua Carretera Coatepec No. 351; Xalapa 91070 Ver., Mexico b Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Coastal Ecology Institute, School of the Coast and Environment, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge 70803, Louisiana USA


Ecological sub-regions are a way ofviewing coastal zone (CZ) regions that have been developed to enhance the capability ofNGOs, governmental organizations, and academics to assess conditions and trends ofthe major ecosystems in the GulfofMexico (Gulf), mainly as a management tool for defining priority actions towards sustainable development. Major ‘‘geographical regions’’ at scale-1-level (1:40) are: (a) the warm-temperate Gulf, (b) the tropical

$ Many ofthe ideas for this article were stimulated by working in two projects and this work benefited from discussions with a number of colleagues included in those projects. (1) 2002 Project Mapping Marine and Estuarine Ecological Regions of North America, Commission for Environmental Cooperation CEC/ NAAEC/NAFTA, Juan Bezaury Creel, Sau´ l Alvarez Borrego, Luis E. Caldero´ n, Arturo Carranza- Edwards, Antonio Dı´az de Leo´ n, Gilberto Enrı´quez Herna´ndez, Gilberto Gaxiola, Hanss Herrmann, Hector A. Lico´ n Gonza´lez, Juan J. Schmitter Soto, Margarito Tapia Garcı´a, Carlos Valde´s, Tara Wilkinson. (2) 2003 Project Sub-region 2 Gulf of Mexico, Scaling & Scoping & Detailed Assessment, Global International Waters Assessment, GIWA GEF/UNEP, Ana Laura Lara-Domı´nguez, David Za´rate Lomelı´, Patricia Sa´nchez-Gil, Sergio Jime´nez Herna´ndez, Alberto Sa´nchez Martı´nez, Evelia Rivera Arriaga, Alejandro Flores Nava, Rafael Romero Mayo, Mario A. Ortiz Pe´rez, Carlos Mun˜oz Pin˜a, Mariana Becerra, Jaime Sa´inz, John W. Day, Garry L. Powell, Christopher J. Madden, Enrique Reyes, Christian Barrientos, Bruce Currie-Alder, Juan Carlos Belausteguigoitia. $$ Paper presented to the Estuarine and Coastal Science Association and the Estuarine Research Federation, Joint Symposium ECSA 35/ERF, San Carlos Son., Mexico, April 28 to May 1, 2003. Corresponding author. Fax: +52 (228) 842 1800 ext 6500. E-mail addresses: aya@ecologia.edu.mx (A. Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia), johnday@lsu.edu (J.W. Day).

0964-5691/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.



728 A. Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia, J.W. Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757

Gulf, and (c) the Caribbean coast of Mexico related to the Gulf. At scale-3-level (1:5 million) in region ‘‘A,’’ six distinct environmental sub-regions are defined: Western Florida Estuarine Area, Eastern GulfNeritic, Mississippi Estuarine Area, Texas Estuarine Area, Laguna Madre Estuarine Area, and Western GulfNeritic. In regions ‘‘B’’ and ‘‘C’’, 13 distinct environmental sub-regions are defined: Southeast Floridian Neritic, Florida Keys, Florida Bay, Shark River Estuarine Area, Dry Tortugas/Florida Keys ReefTract, Southwest Floridian Neritic, Veracruzan Neritic, Tabascan Neritic, Campeche Yucatanean Inner Neritic, Campeche Yucatanean Outer Neritic, Contoyan Neritic, Cancunean Neritic, and SianKa’anean Neritic. From a ‘‘hydrological units’’ focus, five main sub-regions are defined: (a) The western Florida rivers and ground-water discharge system, (b) The Mississippi River basin and delta, (c) The Texas estuaries and Laguna Madre US-Mexico integrated by the Rio Bravo delta, (d) The Usumacinta/Grijalva River basin and delta, and (e) The Rio Hondo-Chetumal Bay in the Caribbean coast ofMexico. Each ‘‘geographical/hydrological’’ sub-region can be viewed as a discrete system which results from the interaction of geologic, geomorphologic, oceano- graphic, climatic, freshwater drainage, physical, chemical, coastal vegetation, wildlife, estuary- shelfinteractions, and human factors. The ecosystem approach adopted as a management tool for environmental sub-regions is predicated on: (a) accepting that interactions between the environment (atmosphere, water, land, biota) and human activities (social, cultural, economics) are inseparable, (b) realizing that humans are the major driving forces behind most ecological change, (c) recognizing environmental thresholds and their importance and linkages to human activities, (d) incorporating the needs ofcurrent and future generations, and e) implementing a long-term perspective that is anticipatory, preventative, and sustainable. We suggest for each sub-region to develop key agenda-topics to strengthen ICM and answer questions on, e.g., (a) controls ofprimary production and water fertility in the coastal zone, (b) energetic pulsing as the basis for sustainable management, (c) vulnerability ofthe coastal zone to global climatic change, (d) coastal wetlands restoration, and (e) environmental sustainability and the economic development ofthe coastal zone. r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

One ofthe 66 Sub-regions ofGIWA (Global International Waters Assessment, a Global Environment Facility/United Nations Environment Programme (GEF/ UNEP) initiative) is the GulfofMexico Sub-region 2 o www.giwa.net 4 , which is a shared ecosystem with a total freshwater drainage system of 5,180,000 km 2 , a water body area of1,507,639 km 2 , average depth of1615 m, and a volume of 2,430,000 km 3 . The Gulfis the largest open water ofinternational protected waters in the Atlantic Ocean. The Exclusive Economic Zones ofthree countries converge in the Gulf, which also constitute a ‘‘Large Marine Ecosystem’’ (LME), and the freshwater continental drainage of five countries discharges in the Gulf coasts. The Gulfis an international aquatic-terrestrial ecosystem and must be analyzed, protected and used in such a way as to optimize the economic and environmental returns from the exploitation of its resources. It is clear that coastal-oceanic and international waters are influenced by the Mississippi drainage, the ecological effects ofthe Texas estuaries and the Rio Bravo basin on transboundary waters among


A. Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia, J.W. Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757


United States and Mexico, the influence on international waters from the Usumacinta Guatemala/Mexico drainage and beyond in the coastal-oceanic zone, and the Rio Hondo-Chetumal Bay Belize/Mexico drainage and its effect into the Gulfthrough the Caribbean coast ofMexico. Because ofthe social, political, economic and scientific importance ofthis region, and because ofits resource exploitation, protection and conservation ofinternational waters and coastal critical habitats should be an international priority, because the ecological integrity ofthe Gulfis in danger and its sustainable development uncertain [1,2]. Over the past 30 years, human intervention has resulted in unprecedented changes in the Gulfecosystem [3]. The natural resources ofthe Gulfare important to the economy ofthe coastal border states ofthe US and Mexico [4,5]. Ofparticular importance to the coastal population centers are fisheries resources, recreational facilities, offshore oil production, land use changes, and the wide diversity of fish, bird, and mammal species. Among the problems are the increasing incidence and extent ofharmful algal blooms, oxygen depletion events, pollution hot spots, loss of wetlands, and losses offishery productivity and yield through overexploitation and bycatch discards [6]. Appropriate management practices should improve the necessary capital in natural productivity for the recovery of depleted natural resources (e.g., low-land coastal wetlands, fish populations). Efforts are presently underway to recover the damaged ecology ofseveral large regions ofGulfcoastal lands and waters [7–9]. However, the various local, state, federal, national, and international jurisdictions responsible for the management of the ecosystem’s rich biodiversity, habitats, and other capital assets will need to develop more effective means for the governance of the ecosystem [10], ifthe large populations in the urban centers along the coasts of the Gulfare to realize the long-term sustainable benefits [1,5], to be derived from a productive coastal zone [12]. Because ofthis the purpose ofthis article is to summarize the focus oftwo global projects (i.e., Mapping Marine and Estuarine Ecological Regions ofNorth America [13]; and Global International Waters Assessment Sub-region 2 GulfofMexico GIWA GEF/UNEP [2]). Ecological sub-regions as management tools is a view of coastal regions that has been developed to enhance the capability ofNGO’s, governmental organizations, and academics, to asses the coastal zone nature, conditions and trends ofthe major ecosystems in the GulfofMexico mainly as a tool for defining priority actions towards sustainable development [6].

2. Ecosystem approach

From our perspective ecosystem approach is required, which involves an integrated perspective on river basins, and an estuarine dynamics comparative analysis, associated with the ecological processes and landscape characterization, because those interactions modulate the primary productivity, water quality, habitat quality, secondary productivity and fishery yields in the coastal zone ofthe Gulfof Mexico [6,12,14,15]. Estuaries, as the key ecosystems for understanding the global


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coastal lands and waters assessment in the Gulfcoastal zone, posses physical characteristics that are as diverse as those ofany coastal region in the world, and offer a unique opportunity to compare the role that physical factors play in regulating coastal processes and water quality [6,12,16]. The GulfofMexico is an excellent region in which to compare the characteristics and processes among estuaries for the following reasons: (1) there is a large number ofestuaries (more than 200), (2) the climate ranges from tropical to temperate and from humid to arid, (3) the area encompasses a wide range ofriverine influences, from systems with almost no riverine input to the Mississippi river or the Usumacinta/Grijalva rivers, and (4) the size of estuarine areas (in terms ofboth waters and intertidal area) varies from very small to the largest in North America. Our experience in the GulfofMexico coastal zone indicates that there is enough information to link the influence ofphysical factors among Gulfestuaries, such as river discharge and size of estuary, to vegetation distribution and fishery harvest [17–22]. Fishery harvest and area ofan estuary are strongly related to fresh-water input and physiography, and fishery harvest per unit ofopen water in the southern Gulfis highly correlated with river discharge [6,23,24]. The ecosystem approach ofthis region’s estuaries and ‘‘hydrological international units’’ can provide insights into the mechanisms by which fresh-water delivery of nutrients, sediments, and organic matter support higher trophic levels. This should provide alternatives to managing the sensitive issues offresh-water delivery and water quality in many regions ofthe GulfofMexico, and support reasons that the global international waters assessment and geographic sub-units must be a priority area for both GIWA GEF/UNEP and Commission for Environmental Cooperation/North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation/North American Free Trade Agreement (CEC/ NAAEC/NAFTA) projects.

3. The geographic scaling at macro-scale perspective

At macro scale-1-level, major regions are: (A) the Warm-Temperate Gulfof Mexico, (B) the Tropical GulfofMexico, and (C) the Caribbean Coast ofMexico. Fig. 1 from [13] illustrates the geographical distribution and ecological diagnostic characteristics; it shows zone 13 as Northern GulfofMexico (the warm-temperate region), zone 14 as Southern GulfofMexico (the tropical region), zone 15 the Caribbean Sea (the tropical region), and a zone 12 the South Florida (topical region) but also including the Bahamian Atlantic. The scale-2-level [13] (Fig. 2, 1:30 millions) shows three sub-regions into the Northern GulfofMexico (the warm-temperate region) e.g., Northern Gulfof Mexico Shelf, Northern GulfofMexico Slope, GulfofMexico Basin, as well as four sub-regions into the Southern GulfofMexico (the tropical region), e.g., Southern GulfofMexico Shelf, Mississippi Fan, Southern GulfofMexico Slope, Gulfof Mexico Basin; four sub-regions in the Caribbean coast of Mexico, e.g.,


A. Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia, J.W. Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757


Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757 731 Fig. 1. Northern Gulf of Mexico

Fig. 1. Northern Gulf of Mexico, warm-temperate region; Region 13, scale-1-level (1:40 millions): Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas (in US), and Tamaulipas (in Mexico); Loop-Current, Florida-Current, and coastal countercurrent. Temperatures from 28 to 30 1C in summer, and 14 to 24 1C in winter. High nutrient load. Biotic communities ofdeltaic systems, coastal lagoons, estuaries, low river basins, mangroves, cypress, sea grasses. Southern Gulf of Mexico, tropical region; Region 14: Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche and Yucatan (in Mexico); Yucatan-Current, Loop-Current. Temperature from 35 to 36.6 1C in summer, and 36 to 36.8 1C in winter. High nutrient load from river discharges and some local upwelling. Biotic communities ofdeltaic systems, coastal lagoons, estuaries, low river basins, mangroves, coastal reef structures, sea grasses. Southern Florida, tropical region; Region 12: The Southwestern Florida; groundwater discharge, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs. The Caribbean Coast of Mexico; Region 15:

Quintana Roo (in Mexico); Tropical currents and countercurrents, Caribbean-Current. Temperature 28 1 C in summer, 25 1C in winter. Low concentration ofnutrients. Upwelling and ground-water discharges. River absents. Biotic communities typical from ‘‘cenotes’’ (sinkhole), dwarf mangroves, sea grasses. After CEC/NAAEC maps in [13]; and diagnosis in [2,6].

After CEC/NAAEC maps in [13] ; and diagnosis in [2,6] . Fig. 2. In the Warm-temperate

Fig. 2. In the Warm-temperate Gulf of Mexico, Region 13.1 Northern GulfofMexico Shelf, 13.2 Northern GulfofMexico Slope, 13.3 GulfofMexico Basin (scale-2-level, 1:30 millions). In the Tropical Gulf of Mexico, Region 12.1 South Florida/Bahamian Shelf, 12.2 South Florida/Bahamian Slope, 14.1 Southern GulfofMexico Shelf, 14.2 Mississippi Fan, 14.3 Southern GulfofMexico Slope, 14.4 GulfofMexico Basin, 15.1 Mesoamerican Caribbean Shelf, 15.3 Eastern Yucatan Slope, 15.6 Yucatan Basin, 15.7 Caribbean Caiman Mountain Range. After CEC/NAAEC maps in [13]; and diagnosis in [2,6].


732 A. Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia, J.W. Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757

Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757 Fig. 3. In the Warm-Temperate Gulf of

Fig. 3. In the Warm-Temperate Gulf of Mexico, Region 13.1.1 Western Flosidia Estuarine Area, 13.1.2 Eastern GulfNeritic, 13.1.3 Mississippi Estuarine Area, 13.1.4 Texas Estuarine Area, 13.1.5 Laguna Madre Estuarine Area, 13.1.6 Western GulfNeritic (scale-3-level, 1:5 millions). In the Tropical Gulf of Mexico, Region 12.1.1 Southeast Floridian Neritic, 12.1.2 Florida Keys, 12.1.3 Florida Bay, 12.1.4 Shark River Estuarine Area, 12.1.5 Dry Tortugas/Florida Keys ReefTract, 12.1.6 Southwest Floridian Neritic:

14.1.1 Veracruzan Neritic, 14.1.2 Tabascan Neritic, 14.1.3 Campeche Yucatanean Inner Neritic, 14.1.4 Campeche Yucatanean Outer Neritic; 15.1.1 Contoyan neritic, 15.1.2 Cancunean Neritic, 15.1.3 SianKa’anean Neritic. After CEC/NAAEC maps in [13]; and diagnosis in [2,6].

Mesoamerican Caribbean Shelf, Eastern Yucatan Slope, Yucatan Basin, Caribbean Caiman Mountain Range; and two sub-regions in Florida, e.g., South Florida/ Bahamian Shelf, South Florida/Bahamian Slope (Fig. 2). In the warm-temperate GulfofMexico, six distinct environmental sub-regions are defined, at scale-3-level (Fig. 3, 1:5 millions): Western Florida Estuarine Areas, Eastern GulfNeritic, Mississippi Estuarine Area, Texas Estuarine Area, Laguna Madre Estuarine Area, Western GulfNeritic (Fig. 3). In the tropical GulfofMexico, 13 distinct environmental sub-regions are defined, at scale-3-level: Southeast Floridian Neritic, Florida Keys, Florida Bay, Shark River Estuarine Area, Dry Tortugas/Florida Keys ReefTract, Southwest Floridian Neritic, Veracruzan Neritic, Tabascan Neritic, Campeche Yucatanean Inner Neritic, Campeche Yucatanean Outer Neritic, Contoyan Neritic, Cancunean Neritic, SianKa’anean Neritic (Fig. 3). Each area can be viewed as a discrete system which results from the interaction of geologic, geomorphologic, oceanographic, climatic, freshwater drainage, physical chemical, coastal vegetation, wildlife, estuary-shelf interactions, and human factors [13,25–30]. Actually and ideally, each area should have a strong biogeographical component [6,13,27,31]. The ecosystem approach adopted on environmental sub-regions as management tool, is predicated on (a) accepting that interactions between the environment (atmosphere, water, land, biota) and human activities (social, cultural, economic system) are inseparable, (b) realizing that humans are the major driving force behind most ecological change, (c) recognizing environmental thresholds and their importance and linkages to human activities, (d) incorporating the needs ofcurrent and future generations, and (e) implementing a long-term perspective that is anticipatory, preventative, and sustainable.


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3.1. Overall description of the warm-temperate Gulf of Mexico

The Northern GulfofMexico (the warm-temperate region) includes the northern portion ofthe Gulf, a semi-enclosed sea basin with tropical currents and high nutrient load. Waters off the States of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas in the United States, and Tamaulipas in Mexico, are included in this region (Fig. 1). This geographic portion is characterized as warm-temperate, due to the seasonal pattern oftemperature regime, influenced mainly by tropical currents on summer and temperate climate during the winter.

3.1.1. Physical setting The Northern GulfofMexico is characterized physiographically by a broad continental shelfextending up to 250 km from the coastline, a steep continental slope and a large central abyssal plain [3,32–34]. The entire region is subjected to a mixed semi-diurnal tidal regime oflow amplitude, generally between 50 and 30 cm. Gulfof Mexico waters are marked by several persistent current features including the Loop- Current, the coastal countercurrent, and the Florida-Current. This region is also the origin ofthe Gulfstream [3,35–38]. Distinctive bathymetric and morphological features of the Gulf include the Flower Gardens coral formations off the Louisiana-Texas coast, the Mississippi River Birdsfoot Delta, and an extensive barrier island system from Florida to Texas and Tamaulipas in northern Mexico. Several large rivers and estuaries populate the region, including from east to west the Caloshatchee and Peace Rivers, Tampa Bay, Suwannee River, Apalachicola Bay, Mobile Bay, Atchafalaya River, Sabine River, Galveston Bay, and Laguna Madre Texas-Tamaulipas. Freshwater inputs from these systems have a significant impact on the coastal physicochemical characteristics and on biological communities and are modulated by the water quality and river discharges into the coastal zone (Figs. 1–3). Climatologically, the region is semi-tropical to tropical, and consequently the coastal communities range from fresh and salt marshes to sea grass and mangrove systems, to neritic shelf. A major climatological feature is the occurrence of hurricanes, which cause perturbation to the physical, biological and human system ofthe region [39–44]. Several severe hurricanes have caused widespread disaster and loss ofthe life along the coast; however, most biological systems recover relatively quickly from hurricane impacts. A prominent ecological hypothesis propounds that the passage ofstrong wind and storm events are important to the biology ofthis otherwise low-energy region because these pulsing episodic energy subsidies rework sediments, redistribute biological seed material and remove accumulated toxins, thereby promoting healthier communities [9,12,14]. Two important structural features of the region are the extensive barrier island system formed by long shore transport and deposition of sands, and the Cheenier Plain and related features deposited by deltaic and plume transport processes of the Mississippi River. The barrier island system forms many lagoons and protected areas, which serve as refuge and spawning ground from the Florida Panhandle trough Alabama and throughout Texas and Tamaulipas, Mexico. The delta building


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and river-switching processes ofthe Mississippi River formed the entire southern portion ofthe State ofLouisiana and part ofthe eastern Texas. The Cheenier Plain in western Louisiana was formed from transport of silt and clays in the westward plume ofthe Mississippi River. Bottom substrates ofthis Gulfregion are dominated by muddy clay-silts or muddy sands throughout the entire shelfslope and plain offMississippi, Louisiana and Texas coasts. From Alabama east to Florida sand, gravel and shell dominates, particularly the carbonate limestone ofthe Florida Platform, where gravel-rock and coral reefs also become interspersed. A key analogy can be seen in the southern Gulf ofMexico [32,33].

3.1.2. Biological setting Several major categories ofbiological communities are encountered within the Gulfregion. Mangroves, salt marshes and beds ofsubmersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) dominate the coastal floral communities. Along the coastal margin, mangrove communities, comprised ofred (Rhizophora mangle), black (Avicennia germinans), white (Laguncularia racemosa), and button (Conocarpus erectus) mangroves, thrive in south Florida from Florida Bay to Cape Romano, and in smaller extensions in Texas, and northern Mexico [45,46]. Scrub mangrove communities occur in Louisiana, the northern extent ofmangroves in North America, which are limited there by temperature. In many areas ofthe coastal Gulf, particularly in Louisiana, Texas and northern Mexico, brackish and salt marsh vegetation occurs, dominated by Juncus romerianus, Spartina patens, and Spartina alterniflora. Extensive sea grass beds inhabit much of the shallow coastal margin, forming communities often dominated by the marine angiosperm Thalassia testudinum, and including Halodule wrightii, Syringodium filiforme, Halophila sp. and in the areas ofgenerally lower salinity, Ruppia maritima. Benthic algae, while less useful as a food source, occurs throughout the entire region from the land margin to the edge of the continental shelf. Phytoplankton are prevalent in the areas around all estuarine and freshwater inputs, revealed in ocean color remote sensing images in concentrations exceeding 5 m g/L chlorophyll around the Mississippi River complex outflow and the west coast ofFlorida. Blooms also occur in upwelling areas along the Florida shelfbreak and the Texas shelf. The low-lying coastline ofthe Northern GulfofMexico is largely free ofcoral formations because of limiting winter temperatures and excessive runoff of fresh water and river sediments. Coral reefcommunities exist in two kinds ofphysical environments, occurring along the mid- to outer lip ofthe Continental Shelfoffthe Big Bend area of Florida, especially at the shelf break offshore of Texas and Louisiana, including the well-known Flower Gardens. Extensive areas ofscattered banks and coral heads also occur in very shallow shelfregions around south and central Florida. Thirty-seven major rivers deliver fresh water to the Gulf, dominated by the Mississippi River in Louisiana on the central north coast, and the Grijalva/ Usumacinta Rivers system in the southern GulfofMexico [2,4,9,18,47–51]. The Gulf estuarine areas provide habitat for several threatened and endangered marine


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mammals and reptiles as well as fishes and invertebrates. The Warm-Temperate Gulf ofMexico is the largest estuarine area in the US, excluding Alaska and contains over 80% ofthe tidal marshes ofthe US. Almost all commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish in the region are estuarine-dependent at some time during their life cycle and use these important areas as spawning, nursery or feeding grounds [52,53].

3.1.3. Human activities

The Northern GulfofMexico is highly impacted by human activity and conservation issues are a major concern [7–9,49,51,54–64]. A quarter ofthe commercial shipping ofthe US passes through the Straits ofFlorida, often causing damaging anchor and grounding scars in coral communities, potentially introducing exotic species in ballast water, and discharging toxic wastes. A major feature of the human activity in the Gulfregion is a consequence ofthe existence ofmajor petroleum hydrocarbon formations offshore of the northern Gulf coast. A vigorous complex of offshore petroleum exploration, extraction, shipping, service, construc- tion, and refining industries has developed over the past halfcentury, particularly in

Louisiana and Texas, resulting in severe impacts on coastal wetlands, brine discharges, heavy metal deposition in drilling muds and tailings, and large and small scale petroleum discharges and major spills. Recently, coastal Florida has been the focus ofpotentially large expansion ofthese oil and gas-related activities. Tourism and development also have encroached upon the natural communities. Conservation issues ofmajor concern focus on wading bird, shorebird, and seabird populations, endangered sea turtle populations, eutrophication in areas ofhigh river discharges, reductions in fresh water inflow to estuaries and wetland loss due to subsidence and impoundment [12,22,65].

3.2. Overall description of the Tropical Gulf of Mexico

The Tropical GulfofMexico includes the southern tropical portion ofthe Gulf, a semi-enclosed sea basin with tropical currents and high nutrient load. Waters ofthe States ofVeracruz, Tabasco, Campeche and Yucatan, Mexico, are included in this region. Also, southwest Florida is included into the Tropical GulfofMexico (Figs. 1–3).

3.2.1. Physical setting

Water enters the Gulfthrough the Yucatan Channel ofMexico, and exits through the Straits of Florida. An additional major water source is from fresh water; 2 ofthe US and 62% of Mexico drains into the Gulf. A prominent feature in the Gulf of Mexico is the Loop Current, which enters through the Yucatan Channel, and exits through the Straits ofFlorida to become the Florida Current, and later the Gulf Stream. Large unstable rings ofwater are shed offthe Loop Current, bringing massive amounts ofheat, salt and water across the Gulf. Thus, the Loop Current plays an important role in shelfnutrient balance, at least in the eastern and northern GulfofMexico [2].



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The broad, shallow shelves are strongly wind-driven out to depths of approximately 50–60 m, and are extremely topographically diverse with smooth slopes, escarpments, knolls, basins and submarine canyons. The southern coast of the GulfofMexico has a significant shelfwidth (shallow carbonate platform), widest at the east at the Yucatan Shelfand narrowing westward along the Mexican coast [25,33,34]. A major climatological feature is the occurrence of hurricanes, which cause perturbations to the physical, biological and human systems ofthe region


3.2.2. Biological setting

Productivity in the GulfofMexico LME ranges from eutrophic conditions in coastal waters to oligotrophic in the deeper ocean [57]. Meteorological fronts occur seasonally and thus they are likely to have a significant impact on rates ofprimary production. Upwelling may lead to increased vertical inputs ofnutrients which in turn increases primary production. Upwelling has been documented to occur in the Campeche Bank, northern shelfofthe GulfofMexico, slope and seaward portions ofthe southern Florida shelf, and the western part ofthe GulfofCampeche. The most significant demersal fisheries are located in the southern Gulf [52,66,67]. The seasonal mixed layer depth cycles in the GulfofMexico deepens in winter and shoals in summer with about the same seasonal difference as in the adjacent open ocean. With its lower surface salinity, it mixes down to about 50 m in the Loop Current. In summer, the GulfofMexico has a very shoal mixed layer (10–20 m). The low-lying coastline ofthe Southern GulfofMexico is largely free ofcoral formations because ofexcessive runoffoffresh water and river sediments, but coastal reefstructures are present near the cities of Tuxpan and Veracruz and offshore reef structures occur along the eastern portion ofthe Yucatan Shelf [6].

3.2.3. Human activities

Natural resource use in the Gulfcomprises a major portion ofthe Gulfcoast economy, and a large population lives along the coast [68]. The Gulf’s waters are a focal point for the impacts and consequences of many upland, waterfront, and offshore activities, including tourism, wetlands, recreational fishing, artificial reefs, seafood production, boating, marinas, beaches, shipping, petroleum production, and urban use [69]. The infrastructure for oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico includes oil refineries, petrochemical and gas processing plants, supply and service bases for offshore oil and gas production units, platform construction yards, pipeline yards, and other industry-related installations, concentrated in coastal Louisiana, eastern Texas, and southwestern Veracruz and Tabasco. The GulfofMexico shows signs of ecosystem stress, mostly in bays, estuaries, and coastal regions, that can be directly related to toxic chemicals, physical restructuring ofthe coast, local harvesting of preferred species, and nutrient loading from rivers. Stresses and their effects include:

shoreline alteration, pollutant discharge, oil and gas development, disease prevalence, exotic species, and nutrient loading.


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Commercial fishing is an important component ofthe Gulf’s economic value [70–72]. There are most likely over 1000 species offinfish in the GulfofMexico, but only a small fraction of those have direct economic value, and therefore are subject to exploitation [53,66]. For instance, from more than 300 species well documented in the Mexican coast ofthe Gulf, no more than 20 species have real economic value [52,67]. No species is in danger ofextinction (with the possible exception ofthe Gulf sturgeon). Traditional GulfofMexico fisheries include penaeid shrimp and menhaden. Newer fisheries include reeffish, coastal migratory pelagic fish, and large oceanic pelagics. These fisheries have reached their harvesting limits. The species in the Mexican GulfofMexico ofeconomic and social importance include brown shrimp (Farfantepenaeus aztecus), white shrimp (Litopenaeus setiferus), pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum), Maya octopus (Octopus maya) endemic to the continental shelfwaters ofthe Yucatan, red grouper (Epinephelus morio), snook (Centropomus spp.), and the brackish water clams (Rangia cuneata, Polymesoda carolineana) [67,70]. The red grouper fishery from the Campeche Bank is the second most important exploited fish resource in the Mexican GulfofMexico, and is particularly developed on the north continental shelfofYucatan [71]. As a result of greater acceptance ofshark meat in seafood markets and the high price ofshark fins in the oriental market, shark catches increased dramatically in the 1980s. Reeffish include groupers, snappers, amberjacks and triggerfish (around 30 species altogether). Red snapper is apparently the most over fished species in the Gulfof Mexico [72]. Scombroid fishes include mackerels and tunas, which are highly migratory species. The most recent stock assessment indicated uncertainty over whether the king mackerel is over fished. Management practices for the Spanish mackerel have been effective, and the stocks appear to be currently healthy. Blue fin tunas are severely over fished, however, and yellow fin tuna stocks are considered fully utilized.

3.3. Overall description of the Caribbean Coast of Mexico, related to the Gulf

The Mexican Caribbean, along the Yucatan Peninsula is the northern extent ofthe Mesoamerican ReefSystem, the second largest reefsystem in the world (Figs. 1–3). Fringing reefs are abundant in the Caribbean and Mesoamerican Caribbean Coral ReefSystem, along the eastern coast ofYucatan and south onto the Mesquite Bank represents a global biodiversity conservation priority. Dwarfmangroves provide additional environmental services, such as erosion control, nutrient retention, and storm buffers [46]. Major currents and gyres depend on the Caribbean-Current. Temperatures vary from 28 1 C in summer to 25 1 C in winter; salinity varies from 35 to 36.2 ppt during Summer, to 35.6 to 36 ppt in Winter. Major communities’ type and sub-type are coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, modulate by marine processes and ground-water discharge into the coastal zone [6].


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3.3.1. Human activities and conservation Caribbean Sea ecosystems are showing signs ofstress, particularly in the shallow waters ofcoral reefsystems. Major human stresses on coral reefs include coastal development and runoff, coastal pollution, and over fishing. Corals are essential to reefgrowth and help prevent erosion. Coral growth can be limited by high turbidity, exposure to fresh water or air, extreme temperatures, pollution, and excess nutrients. Coral bleaching and mortality events in the region have increased during the 1980s and 1990s. Bleaching occurs when the coral expels its symbiotic algae, and if prolonged may result in coral mortality. Bleaching in the Caribbean has generally been linked to abnormally high water temperatures. In 1983, an unknown disease swept through the Caribbean, causing mass mortality ofthe sea urchin Diadema antillarum. In conjunction with over fishing, loss ofthis keystone herbivore has led to overgrowth ofcorals by macro algae on many reefs. Shallow water elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (A. cervicornis) suffered declines of over 90% throughout the Caribbean, primarily as a result ofwhite band disease [73]. Poorly planned land development, point and non-point source pollution, conversion ofmangrove habitats and upland deforestation all contribute to the area’s environmental degradation [74]. Because the Caribbean climate is so suitable for year-round tourism, this activity is rapidly growing throughout the region. The importance ofthe tourism industry is attested by intensive coastal development and the number ofcruise ships in the area. Increased tourism, unless carefully managed, is also expected to contribute to more environmental degradation. Over fishing has occurred on nearly all reefs near inhabited islands or coasts. Over 170 species are caught for commercial purposes in the Caribbean Sea, but most of the catch is comprised ofless than 50 species. The principal species harvested in the Caribbean Sea are spiny lobster (Panulirus argus), coral reeffishes, and conch [70]. Spiny lobster is one ofthe most valuable species ofthe Caribbean. There is concern over the long-term sustainability of spiny lobster due an increase in fishing effort. Coral reeffisheries are mostly small-scale, artisanal fisheries, but are ofsignificant economic, cultural and recreational importance. High value grouper and conch fisheries have collapsed in many Caribbean areas and it is unlikely this catch can be sustained. The State ofQuintana Roo has experienced exponential growth over the last 25 years derived from tourism activities, including coastal development and cruise ships. Destruction ofcoastal habitats due to poorly planned coastal development and derives activities, unsustainable fisheries, widespread inland deforestation and pollution ofthe water table within a karstic system (underground rivers through limestone caves and channels) are ofmajor concern [74].

4. Defining geographic/hydrologic ecosystem units

Although several alternative methods have been considered, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service [75] recognized that no single classification scheme provided an ideal framework for working in the Gulf of Mexico. However the


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‘‘geographic units’’ proposed by USFWS [76]; Fruge´ [77], and the ‘‘hydrologic units’’ proposed by Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia [2,6], are advances in this framework process towards coastal management in the GulfofMexico from an ecosystem approach perspective. Watersheds (defined as US Geological Survey hydrologic units) were chosen as the primary basis for defining ecosystem units. Geographic ecosystem units were defined, with some exceptions, ‘‘by grouping, or in some cases segmenting, watershed units’’. Watersheds offer several advantages in defining geographic ecosystem units: (1) they provide discrete physical boundaries; (2) they provide the best management focus for resources which are largely water related; (3) they emphasize the linkages between upstream and downstream effects; and (4) they provide flexibility of scale due to their hierarchical structure. For the GulfofMexico United States littoral zone, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service [76] recognizes seven geographic ecosystem units: (1) Lower Rio Grande, (2) Texas GulfCoast (including primary tributaries Edwards Plateau, and East Texas), (3) Lower Mississippi River, (4) Central Gulf, (5) Florida Panhandle, (6) North Florida, (7) South Florida. See detailed description in [77]. From the GIWA perspective, the Scaling & Scoping exercise for Sub-region 2 Gulf ofMexico [2], defined the ‘‘hydrological unit’’ as a geographic unit with a significant river basin draining through an important portion of the continent and extensive coastal plain, high fresh-water discharge into the coastal zone, and having an important international approach both for US and Mexico States. Five hydrological units were considered for the Scaling & Scoping & Detailed Assessment exercise [2]: (a) The western Florida rivers and ground-water discharge system, (b) The Mississippi River basin and delta, (c) The Texas estuaries and Laguna Madre US-Mexico integrated by the Rio Bravo delta, (d) The Usumacinta/ Grijalva River basin and delta, and (e) The Rio Hondo-Chetumal Bay in the Caribbean coast ofMexico. The ecosystem approach from the perspective of geographic/hydrologic ecosystem units addresses the GulfofMexico directly to the extent that it focuses on coastal habitats and living resources that migrate between inland and Gulfhabitats, and the ecological connections among the mainland drainage, estuaries, and coastal-marine areas in the continental shelf. It also addresses the Gulf indirectly in that coastal and near-shore habitats are affected by water quality and quantity of streams entering coastal waters. For example, it recognized a link between mid-western farming practices and fisheries productivity in the GulfofMexico [7]. Erosion and nutrient runoff—natural or induced—result in sediment transported downstream in the Mississippi River [42]. These sediments and nutrients contribute to maintenance and accretion ofcoastal wetlands [9,12,78], which are vital as nursery areas for coastal fisheries [53,79,80]. At the same time, excess nutrients that enter the system and are not trapped by marsh-building processes contribute to anoxic bottom conditions in the GulfofMexico [81,82].

4.1. The western Florida rivers and ground-water discharge system

West-central Florida contains 14 named rivers and numerous small streams that flow to the GulfofMexico [8,47,49,83–85]. The flow regimes ofseveral rivers north


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to Tampa Bay are dominated by groundwater discharges from the large artesian springs, whereas flows in rivers from just north of Tampa Bay southward are dominated by surface runoff [63]. The region receives an average rainfall of about 1350 mm/yr with about 60% occurring from June through September. The temporal variability ofstream flow in spring-fed rivers is typically more subdue than seasonal variations in rainfall, while average monthly flows in rivers dominated by surface runoff exhibit greater seasonal variability than monthly rainfall [84]. In rivers dominated by surface runoff, low flows occurs in April and May when rainfall is low and potential evaporation/ transpiration rates are increasing; peak flows typically occur in August or September when depressional storage is full and water tables are high. The interaction ofthis seasonal stream flow pattern with estuarine processes forms the hydro biological and landscape setting for managing habitats and freshwater inflows in these systems, with an ecosystem approach perspective


Watery veins on Florida’s face are nourished by a complex hydrologic web that includes more than 300 freshwater springs. Most occurs in an area, where the aquifer breaches the surface or is covered by no more than 100 feet of clay-laden sediment. Stretching beneath north Florida is a huge bed oflimestone easily dissolved by waterborne acids. Such chemical erosion creates an underground web ofconduits and caverns, as well as sinkholes at the surface. Under the state’s Northern Highlands, a ‘‘confining layer’’ ofimpermeable clay covers the limestone, causing water to collect on the surface. But across much of the state the confining layer is thin or absent. Here water drains directly into the aquifer—carrying with the pollutants from the surface. By decrypting the system’s structure, hydrologists help explain how pollutants in one area can contaminate water that seem to circulate in a separate cycle. From an international perspective in the GulfofMexico, the water assessment is going to be a priority in this ‘‘hydrological unit.’’ Western Florida has been and will continue to be the most rapidly growing area in the Gulf. Its population is expected to increase by more than 1.5 million over the next two decades at a rate of27%. A significant aspect ofthe area is the Floridian aquifer system, with more than 300 freshwater springs and where sinkholes can have average flow of 100 cubic feet per second [2].

4.2. The Mississippi River Basin and Delta

The Mississippi River has a total watershed ofabout 3 10 6 km 2 that encompasses about 40% ofthe lower 48 United States and accounts for about 80% ofthe freshwater inflow to the GulfofMexico. Major tributaries to the lower Mississippi River include the Ohio, Upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas Rivers. The mean discharge ofthe Mississippi is about 18,000 m 3 /s. The Mississippi Delta is the largest delta in North America and one ofthe largest in the world. By the beginning ofthe 20th century, the total area ofthe delta including wetlands, shallow inshore water bodies and low elevation upland area located mainly on distributaries ridges, was about 25,000 km 2 . The delta has


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enormous ecological and economic value. It supports the largest fishery in the US and is the terminus ofthe largest migratory bird flyway in North America [72]. The economic values ofnatural resource-based activities exceed US $2 billion per year. The delta formed over the past 6000–7000 years as a series ofoverlapping delta lobes [12]. There was an increase in wetland area in active deltaic lobes and wetlands loss in abandoned lobes, but there was an overall net increase in the area ofwetlands over the past several thousand years [86]. During the 20th century, there was an enormous loss ofwetlands, both in the basin and the delta, and a deterioration ofwater quality [78]. Perhaps the most notable water quality problem is the growing hypoxic zone in the GulfofMexico adjacent to the delta [82]. From 1930s until the present, there has been a dramatic loss ofwetlands in the Mississippi Delta with loss rates as high as 100 km 2 /year, and a total area about 3900 km 2 ofcoastal wetlands has been lost [78]. Wetland loss rates were highest in the 1960s and 1970s and have declined since, although rates remain high. An understanding ofthe causes ofthis land loss is important not only for a scientific understanding of the mechanisms involved but also so that effective management plans can be developed to recover these losses. A number offactors have been linked to land loss [12,14,78], including: (a) elimination ofriverine input to most ofthe coastal zone due to construction offlood control levees along the Mississippi River, (b) reduction ofthe suspended sediment load in the Mississippi River, (c) altered wetland hydrology mostly due to canal construction, (d) saltwater intrusion, (e) wave erosion along exposed shorelines, (f) a decline ofsuspended sediments in the Mississippi River, and (g) high relative sea- level rise. Water quality deterioration is a problem in the delta on two levels: (a) many water bodies and waterways in the delta are nutrient enriched and eutrophic; and (b) the source ofnutrients are point (e.g., inadequately treated sewage) and non-point (e.g., agricultural and urban runoff) [7,9,65]. In addition to inadequate source control and treatment, the elimination and canalization of wetlands has exacerbated the problem. Another water quality problem that has received widespread attention is the seasonally severe and persistent hypoxia conditions (low dissolved oxygen condition in bottom waters, generally less than 2 mg/L), that have been measured on the continental shelfofthe northern Gulfof Mexico south ofthe Louisiana for the past decade. The area extent ofthe hypoxia zone has ranged from 13,000 to 18,000 km 2 from 1993 through 1999. The hypoxia is, in part, related to the discharge ofthe Mississippi with elevated levels ofnutrients, especially nitrate. As consequence ofthat situation, coastal waters around the Mississippi/ Louisiana/Texas are being significantly degraded by pollutants, particularly nitrogen, from upland watershed. The problem is particularly acute in the Gulf of Mexico where ca. 20,000 km 2 ‘‘dead-zone’’ or hypoxia is being caused by transport on nitrogen from the entire Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio River Basin (about 40% of the United States). Potential hypoxia on the southern GulfofMexico has been hypothesized by Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia et al. [6].


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4.3. The Texas estuaries and Laguna Madre US-Mexico integrated by the Rio Bravo delta

Freshwater inflow strongly affects bay salinity, nutrient loading, and sediment loading in Texas estuaries [20,64], although the climatic gradient down the length of the coast is the most important natural factor mediating the supply of freshwater for bays and estuaries. Human activities can determine both the quality and quantity of the inflows, so there is concern that this influence could be deleterious [87]. However, sound resources management practices can balance human influences and the needs ofthe estuaries. Selecting levels ofsalinity, nutrient, and sediment loading that adequate to maintain an ecologically sound environment requires perspective about these materials for each estuary in this ‘‘hydrological unit’’ for GIWA Scaling & Scoping & Detailed Assessment Workshop [2]. Inflow to Texas estuaries varies widely [32,55,64]. From north to south, there is a general decrease in freshwater inflow, being strongly dry towards the Laguna Madre and the Rio Bravo mouth, USA-Mexico border [87]. On the average, the volume of fresh water received by the Mission-Aransas and Nueces estuaries is less than each estuary’s volume. Estuaries farther up the coast receive more inflow on a per-volume basis, with the Sabine-Neches Estuary receiving more than 50 times its volume each year. Inflow varies from year to year, but the variation for the Mission-Aransas and Nueces estuaries is much greater than for the system farther up the coast. These two estuaries have more periods with very low flows than the other systems studied. All estuaries show monthly inflow variations, with the lowest inflows occurring during August in each estuary. The Sabine-Neches and Trinity-San Jacinto estuaries have peak flows during the spring. The Nueces and Mission-Aransas inflow peaks historically have occurred with storm events during the fall. Middle-coast estuaries have both spring and fall inflow maximal. Only the Mission-Aransas estuary had a significant trend in inflow during the past 47 years, an increase of2.1%/year. Two periods ending in drought (1941 to 1958 and 1958 to 1996) showed significant decreases in inflow for nearly all estuaries. During the period 1966 through 1987, however, there were no statistically significant trends. The Nueces estuary showed a large decrease ( 4.33%/year) in inflows over the latter period, but the large variability ofthe inflow record prevented the decrease from being statistically significant. Average salinities ofTexas estuaries are directly related to the number of annual inflow volumes each estuary receives. Bays with lower salinities generally receive a greater number ofinflow volumes than those with higher salinities. All estuaries display a salinity gradient that increases from the upper to the lower portion ofthe estuary. A trend analysis for various areas ofTexas estuaries showed that the salinity ofthe lower Sabine-Neches estuary decreased by about 3% per year from 1968 to 1987. At the same time, salinity increased by around 2% per year for West Galveston Bay and lower mid-San Antonio Bay. Several portions ofthe Nueces estuary had increases in salinity, but Nueces Bay was the only portion ofthe system in which the change was large enough to be considered significant.


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Inflows provide the majority ofnutrient loading to Texas estuaries. The proportion ofthe load carried by river flow varies with respect to amounts delivered by return flows and direct precipitation. Gaged flow provides 24–34% ofthe Nitrogen load to the Mission-Aransas and Nueces estuaries, about 43% to the Trinity-San Jacinto, 49% to the Lavaca-Colorado, and 80% to the Guadalupe estuary. In all estuaries, there is a decreasing nutrient concentration gradient from the head to the mouth. The gradient exist under both high- and low-inflow conditions. The magnitude ofnutrient loading varies substantially from one estuary to another, but the residence time ofthe inflowing water lessens the loading differences. Even under low-inflow conditions, it does not appear that larger areas of the bays have the lowest concentration ofnitrogen during low flow conditions, but are zones ofefficient use and recycling. Heterotrophic regeneration and high turbidity in the upper reaches ofestuaries coupled with lower turbidity and efficient benthic regeneration in the lower estuary allow nutrients to move through the system and be reused without encountering problems ofeutrophication. There is adequate information about suspended sediment loads for the major rivers flowing to Texas estuaries, but almost no information about bed load [20,64]. The relative importance ofbed load compared to suspended load in providing sediment to deltas and bay areas is not known. Suspended sediment consists ofsand, silt, and clay. Among the rivers flowing to Texas estuaries, the proportion ofsilt does not vary much. Rivers with high flows, such as the Trinity and Sabine, carry high proportions ofsand (20–38%) compared to the inflowing rivers to the south (0–5%). The Trinity and Sabine rivers also have relatively low levels ofclay (38–58%) compared to the other river systems (more than 70%). Rivers with much lower flows, such as the Nueces, carry more than 85% oftheir suspended sediment as clay, with practically no sand. From socioeconomic point of view, the crucial need for freshwater inflows to Texas bays, estuaries, and their economically important fishery resources, was first recognized in the 1950s. At that time, virtually all parts ofthe state were experiencing the effects of one of the most severe droughts in modern history. Beginning in 1948, the droughts was finally broken by heavy rains and flooding in the spring of1957. During 1956, the worst year ofthe decade-long drought, combined river discharges measured at the last streamflow gauging station on each major Texas river amounted to only 5.06 10 9 m 3 , or about 14% ofthe average annual freshwater inflow to the State’s bays and estuaries. As a result ofthe drought, bay oyster (Crassostrea virginica) production in Texas practically ceased, white shrimp (Litopenaeus setiferus) harvested were drastically reduced, and estuarine-dependent fishes such as the black drum (Pogonias cromis) were blinded and exhibited body lesions from extreme high salinity stress in the State’s most southern bays and lagoons, towards Laguna Madre. The Laguna Madre area ofsouth Texas and northern Mexico is not rich from inflowing freshwater and nutrients. Instead, the whole area seems to be a circumscribed situation with little output and little influx ofnutrients [87]. In Tamaulipas, Laguna Madre is divided into two hydrographic units by the shallow mud flats off the mouth of the Rio San Fernando. The northern part is usually a


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brine pool but intermittently the environment becomes highly productive when diluted by runoff from Rio Bravo and repopulated by fishes moving through the reopened barrier island passes. The black drum (Pogonias cromis) which feed on small pelecypods is the principal commercial species. The southern part is more variable in its salinity ranging from nearly freshwater to a series of brine pools, but it is usually hypersaline. Depending on the seasonality of Halodule wrightii sea grass beds, the seasonal freshwater inflow, and the sea influence, palaemonids, pre-adult penaeids, sea trout, redfish, and others species are important in fish catches. The San Fernando River in Mexico has an extension of4541 km 2 , and a drainage basin area of15,640 km 2 and an average flow of756 m 3 /month. The International Rio Bravo has an extension of2933 km 2 , but considering the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande joint basins the area is about 467,000 km 2 . The length is 3033 km, crossing eight states (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Durango, in Mexico, and Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas in US). During 1962 the mean average discharge ofRio Bravo was 3 10 6 m 3 /year, but in the period from 1990 to 1995, the discharge was zero [2].

4.4. The Usumacinta/Grijalva River Basin and Delta

The Usumacinta River ofMexico and Guatemala is the largest river in Mesoamerica and among one ofthe most significant shared water resources in the Western Hemisphere [50,60]. The delta comprises a main river, the Usumacinta, and a major tributary, the Gijalva River. The watershed drains one ofthe largest areas of contiguous tropical forest in the region, including 177,987 ha in Campeche, 724,547 ha in Tabasco, 2,175,718 ha in Chiapas and 4,241,271 ha in Guatemala, and is extremely rich in natural and cultural resources [9,15]. The Usumacinta/Grijalva River system headwaters are in a tropical forest slightly affected by humans, along with the lithographic and geomorphologic nature of the area (dominated by karst) that facilitate high loads of sediment to the carried by sheet flow, indicated the high potential ofsediment transport. The Usumacinta River is formed by the junction of the Pasion River, which starts in the Sierra de Santa Cruz (in Guatemala), and the Salinas River, also known as the Chixoy, or the Negro, which descends from the Sierra Madre de Guatemala The Usumacinta flows northwestward, meeting with the Lacantum River and forming part of the political border between Mexico and Guatemala. Below the Maya ruins ofPiedras Negras, located in Guatemala, the river begins a meandering course through the swampy lowlands ofthe southern shores to the Bay ofCampeche. It also forms part ofthe border between the States ofChiapas and Tabasco (in Mexico) as it continues its course northwestward. The main branch joins the Grijalva River before emptying into the GulfofMexico (Bay ofCampeche) below the town ofFrontera; the central branch, now called San Pedro and San Pablo River, flows into the bay at the town of San Pedro; and the eastern arm, known as the Palizada River, empties into the Terminos Lagoon (the largest lagoon-estuarine system in Mexico) in the State of Campeche [88]. The total length ofthe main channel, including the Chixoy, is approximately 1100 km. Navigable for 480 km inland; the Usumacinta has had great


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economic significance as a means ofcommunication for the towns on its banks and for exporting logs, gum and other lowland products. The Grijalva River is located in southeastern Mexico. The watershed ofthe Grijalva and Usumacinta rivers encompass a total of118,500 km 2 remaining from its historical extension of186,000 km 2 due to land conversion to agriculture (for a 36% ofthe original total), and gas pipelines and other petroleum industry related activities. Ofits headwaters, the largest one is the Cuilco River, which begins in the Sierra Madre ofGuatemala and the Sierra de Soconusco ofMexico. The Grijalva flows generally northwestward through the Chiapas State (Mexico) where it is known as the Rio Grande de Chiapas, or Rio Chiapas. After leaving the lake created by the Malpaso Dam, it turns northward and eastward, roughly paralleling the Chiapas-Tabasco State border. Veering northward again at Villahermosa, the capital state ofTabasco. It meets the main branch ofthe Usumacinta River and empties into the GulfofMexico at the Bay ofCampeche, 10 km north–northwest ofFrontera town. The river is navigable by shallow-draft vessels for approximately 95 km upstream from the bay and for several stretches along its middle and upper course. The Gijalva River’s total length is approximately 640 km. The delta prairies are assemblage ofMezcalapa, Grijalva, and Usumacinta Rivers, and together they have constituted a large delta with more than 20,000 km 2 [6]. The shared drainage basin is located in a tropical region whose climate changes gradually from the river mouth to the inland parts of the basin. There are two types ofclimate, Amw’’ig near the coast, and Aw’’ig in inland areas. Both are hot with the first being humid and the second sub-humid with abundant rainfall in summer (June to October). Mean annual temperature is higher than 26 1 C. Precipitation over the drainage basin is from 1200 to 2000 mm/year. There are two quite distinct wind systems. During the ‘‘Norte’’ season, winds are from the northwest with mean wind speeds slightly higher than 8 m/s. For most ofthe rest ofthe year there is a sea breeze system, with predominantly easterly winds. Average sea breeze velocity is 4–6 m/s. The easterly orientation ofthe sea breeze reflects the regional influence ofthe trade winds. There are essentially no winds from the southwest. There are three ‘‘seasons’’. From June to October there are almost daily afternoon, and evening showers. From October into March is the season of‘‘Norte’’ or winter storms; these storms are generally strongest and associated with rains during November–January. February to May is the dry season [15]. The Grijalva is 640 km long and the Usumacinta is 1100 km. The combined discharge is 3000 to 4400 m 3 /s or 118,000 10 6 m 3 /year. Most ofthis occurs via the Usumacinta (52%) and Mezcalapa (23%) with lower values for the Chiapa (11%), De la Sierra (6%), and Tonala (5%) rivers. Recently the Comisio´ n Nacional del Agua (CNA) reported a combined discharge of4402 m 3 /s. The increase in discharge coincides with the first maximum in precipitation over the basin in the beginning of summer. The highest discharge occurs from September to November when high discharge from all distributaries reaches the delta [2]. Discharge is lowest in April. Total combined discharge is about 30 10 6 m 3 /year. The mean annual peak discharge is in October registered in Boca del Cerro (Usumacinta) with 9,581,551 m 3 /month.


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4.5. The Rio Hondo-Chetumal Bay in the Caribbean Coast of Mexico

The New and Rio Hondo Rivers are the main freshwater input in the south of Chetumal Bay [89]. The Rio Hondo supplies the bay with 1500 10 6 m 3 of freshwater annually, but it also carries out other important functions of climatic and hydrological regulation for the interconnected system of mangroves, lagoons, sinkholes. It also sustains a unique biodiversity in the south ofQuintana Roo, along the width ofthe 260 km oflongitude ofits trench. That natural unit that extends from the northwest ofGuatemala to northern limits ofBelize and south ofMexico is a natural biological corridor. It has historically been a target of‘‘colonization’’ and it has been disturbed for different uses of the soil and mishandling of water. Intensive agricultural development in both margins ofthe River and the expansion ofthe urban centers has accelerated the process ofdegradation ofthe system, reducing the corridor in several parts to a thin fringe of riparian vegetation. Its context as a transboundary system adds a supplementary difficulty to the classification problem and environmental planning for its integrated management. The basin is delimited by the Rio Hondo and its tributaries. Its tributary area is 13,465 km 2 oftotal extension, with 7614 km 2 in Mexico (57%), 2978 km 2 in Belize (22%) and 2873 km 2 in Guatemala (21%). The border to the north is with the basin ofChetumal Bay, to the South with the basin ofNew River and to the Southwest with the basin ofthe Usumacinta River. Its form is ofirregular polygon lightly guided from NE to SW between 18 1 45 0 and 17 1 43 0 N; 88 1 35 0 and 89 1 15 0 W. In the Mexican territory, its tributary includes the Otho´ n Blanco County in Quintana Roo, and Hopelchen County in Campeche; in Belize the Districts ofOrange Walk and Corozal, and the Melchor de Mencos County in Guatemala [2]. The Chetumal Bay is located parallel to the basement ofthe East Geologic Rift from Belize to Tulum [89]. The karstification degree is related to elevation ofthe region and depth of the water body. Its extension is 67 km for 20 km, and surface of 1098 km 2 ; inside the Bay there is the island ofTamalcab (9 km oflong and 0.5 km wide), located in the southeast portion ofthe Bay and parallel to the continental coast. The presence ofthe Rio Hondo and flooding adjacent areas give to the Bay estuarine characteristic and it can be considered a hypohaline system since has a salinity ofless than 14 ppt. The average depth is 3.3 m and the hydrodynamic is determined mainly by the trade winds ofthe east and southeast. The climate is warm, sub-wet with summer rain.

5. Confronting the geographic/hydrologic ecosystem units with the ecological regions of North America

The coastal geographic scaling described in Section 3 [13], and the hydrological units (coastal/estuarine/marine) ofthe study analyzed in Section 4 [2] show a high correlation with the ecological regions ofNorth America (coastal/terrestrial) described in [27]. From an ecological perspective, the results ofCEC/NAAEC in [13], the Scaling & Scoping & Detailed Assessment Workshop [2], subsequent


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meetings, data analysis, and discussions held during this process were an achievement on their own. The selected sub-regions (hydrological units), the maps and the report that have resulted from attempts to describe the diversity continuity ofthe ecosystems ofthis region, and it is hoped that they will bear fruit in facilitating communication between scientists, decision makers, environmentalists, and anyone interested in the enormous ecological richness and water resource ofthe Gulfof Mexico. However, a process so complex never really ends, and we recognize that the maps will be refined by further knowledge. How can the five ‘‘hydrological units’’ defined [2] be overlaid with the coastal/ terrestrial ecological regions ofNorth America [27,90]? Fig. 4 shows coastal/terrestrial ecological regions. The environmental character- ization ofcoastal/terrestrial ecological regions, according to: (a) landforms, and water bodies, (b) surface materials and soils, (c) climate, (d) vegetation, (e) wildlife, and (f) human activities, is as follows. Numbers in each paragraph are the same in the original publication [27]:

[8. 5]. The Mississippi Alluvial and Southeastern Coastal Plain (368,720 km 2 ) is characterized by flat plains, many wetlands, alluvium and coastal marine deposits, fine-to medium-textured forest soils, organics. Temperatures range from 13 to 27 1 C, with precipitation ranging from 1100 to 1800 mm/year. Habitat types include bottomland forest (ash, oak, tupelo, bald cypress) and southern mixed forest (beach sweet, gum, magnolia, oaks, pine, saw palmetto) and common fauna include white- tailed deer, opossums, armadillos, American alligators, mockingbirds, and egrets.

8.3 8.5 9.5 4.1 6 4.2 15.4 4.3 14.1 14.2 15.1 4.4 15.2 4 14.1
4.2 15.4
15.1 4.5
13.5 14

Fig. 4. Terrestrial ecological regions ofNorth America. The GulfofMexico region. Commission for Environmental Cooperation, North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation [27]. Explanation in the text. Scale-2-level (1:30 millions). Arrows and numbers indicates the sections in this article where the ‘‘geographical regions’’ selected for are located [13], and ‘‘hydrological units’’ selected for the Scaling & Scoping & Detailed Assessment Workshop are located [2].


748 A. Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia, J.W. Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757

Major economic activities include forestry and agriculture (citrus, soybeans, cotton), tourism, and commercial fishing. The Mississippi Alluvial and Southeastern Coastal Plain is highly correlated with ‘‘The Western Florida Rivers and Ground-Water Discharge System’’, and ‘‘The Mississippi River Basin and Delta’’ hydrological units described in Sections 4.1 and 4.2 (Fig. 4). [9. 5]. Texas-Louisiana Coastal Plain (64,615 km 2 ) is characterized by flat plains and some barrier islands, alluvium and wetlands, calcareous soils, some rich in organics. Temperatures range from 18 to 25 1 C, with precipitation ranging from 750 to 1300 mm/year. Southern cord grass/bluestem grass dominates the area; much of this is currently in agriculture. Common species include alligator, armadillo, rattlesnake, ducks, pelican, plover, and the sandpiper. Major industries include the petrochemical industry, agriculture (rice, sorghum, cattle pasture), fishing, and tourism. This area is highly correlated with the ‘‘The Texas Estuaries and Laguna Madre US-Mexico Integrated by the Rio Bravo Delta’’ hydrologic unit described in Section 4.3 (Fig. 4). [14. 1]. The GulfofMexico Dry Coastal Plains and Hills (33,885 km 2 ) are characterized by plains and hills, with colluvium and alluvium, clayey and calcareous soils. Temperatures average 24–26 1 C, with rainfall of 600–800 mm/year. Common habitat types include deciduous and thorn forest (Texas ebony, ceron, copal, mesquite) and significant species include jaguar, chachalaca, wild turkey, green parakeet, red-crowned parrot. This area is characterized by extensive grazing, agriculture. [14. 2]. Northwestern Plain ofthe Yucatan Peninsula (14,165 km 2 ). Karst plain, wetlands. Colluvium and alluvium; calcareous soils. 24–28 1 C, 600–800 mm/year. Common habitat types include deciduous forest (gummolimbo, cardia/canalete, tepehuaje, angelica tree) and fauna includes paca, hog-nosed, skunk, black-throated bobwhite, lesser roadrunner. Economic activities include henequen plantations; tourism. [15. 1]. GulfofMexico Humid Coastal Plain and Hills (141,390 km 2 ) is characterized by coastal plains and hills, wetlands, with alluvium and colluvium and poorly drained, clayey soils. Average temperature ranges from 22 to 24 1 C with rainfall of 2000–4000 mm/year. Tall and medium-height evergreen forest (paque, allspice tree, palms, sombrerete, breadnut, copaiye wood, mahogany, mangrove, forbes) dominates and significant fauna include tapir, white-lipped peccary, spider monkey, vampire bat. Morelet’s crocodile, green iguana, fer de lance, muscovy duck, scarlett macaw, hardy eagle, keel-billed toucan. Economic activities include extensive grazing, agricultural plantations; petroleum industry; tourism. This area is highly correlated with ‘‘The Usumacinta/Grijalva River Basin and Delta’’ hydrologic unit described in Section 4.4 (Fig. 4). [15. 2]. Plains and Hills ofthe Yucatan Peninsula (115,820 km 2 ) is characterized by plains and hills, wetlands, with residuum and collovium, calcareous soils. Average temperature ranges from 22 to 26 1 C with rainfall of 1000–2000 mm/year. Tall and medium-height evergreen and subdeciduous forest (breadnut, sapadilla, mahogany, red cedar, mangrove) dominates. Significant fauna include jaguar, grison, red bracket, Mexican porcupine, howler monkey, Yucatan turtle, boa, ocellated turkey,


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great curassow, flamingo. Important economic activities include forestry, agricul- ture, and tourism. This area is highly correlated with ‘‘The Rio Hondo-Chetumal Bay in the Caribbean Coast of Mexico’’ hydrologic unit described in Section 4.5 (Fig. 4). [15. 3]. Sierra de los Tuxtlas (4,280 km 2 ) is characterized by volcanic coastal mountains. Average temperature is 18–23 1 C with rainfall of 2000–4000 mm/year. Vegetation includes tall and low evergreen forest (figs, canella, breadnut, tucuma, llamarada) and significant fauna include the white-lipped peccary, howler monkey, spider monkey, vampire bat, fer de lance, boa, hardy eagle. Important economic activities include grazing, agricultural plantations, and tourism. [15. 4]. Everglades (21,300 km 2 ) are characterized by flat plains, coastal islands, and wetlands, with marine and alluvial deposits, organics and weakly developed calcareous soils. Average temperatures range from 10 to 25 1 C with rainfall of 1100–2000 mm/year. Dominant flora includes saw grass, southern slash and loblolly pine, baldcypress, mangrove and significant fauna includes Florida panther, key deer, manatee, American alligator, gopher tortoise, herons, flamingos, Everglade snail kite. Important economic activities include recreation, tourism, and agriculture.

6. Synthesis for the next agenda

The variations in scope and experiences, and the amount ofprogress made by different institutions and groups of academics, utilizing environmental sub-regions as management tool, agree to define carefully the next step in the coming agenda for the GulfofMexico during the decade 2000–2010. In each ofthe described geographical and hydrological units in the Gulfthe priorities will likely center around the following agenda topics (e.g., ecosystem approach and management):

6.1. Controls of primary production and water fertility in the coastal zone

The objectives are to use available data to summarize the current understanding of how major processes control primary production in the tropical/sub-tropical coastal zone and suggest questions for future study. Aquatic primary productivity, water quality, and water fertility, control both habitat quality and fishery resources in the coastal zone ofthe Gulf. Local scale processes include small rivers and estuarine outflow, wind and wave effects, and near-shore circulation. Mesoscale process include tides, upwelling, meteorology forcing, regional circulation, internal waves, topographic effects, large rivers, fronts and estuarine plumes, and Loop Current (and eddies) circulation features [2,6,15,91].

6.2. Energetic pulsing, the basis for sustainable management

A key concept for sustainability is that sustainable management will be most successful when it is based on ecosystem functioning. This means that management activities should integrate ecosystem functioning and allow the system to self-design naturally. Two important concepts that are especially pertinent for lower river


750 A. Ya´n˜ez-Arancibia, J.W. Day / Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (2004) 727–757

floodplains and coastal areas are the flood pulse concept for lower rivers and their flood plains and the pulsing concept for coastal systems. The flood pulse concept focuses on the lateral exchange of water, nutrients, and organisms between the river and the connected floodplain. It considers the importance ofhydrology and hydrochemistry ofthe parent rivers, but focuses on their impact on the organisms and the specific processes in the flood plain. Periodic inundation and drought is the driving force in the river-floodplain ecosystem. The pulsing concept states that coastal systems and deltas are structured and sustained by a hierarchical series of overlapping energetic pulsing events. Ecologists, climatologists and geomorpholo- gists have identified and started to explain a range of different modes of pulsing which seem to be essential components ofbehavior ofthe global climatic coastal system. This events range from switching of deltaic lobes that takes place on the order of1000 years, to daily tides and includes great floods that occurs a few times a century, strong storms such as hurricanes occurring on decadal scales, annual river floods, and frontal passages [6,9,12,14,15,92].

6.3. Vulnerability of the coastal zone because global climatic change

The goals ofthis research area are to understand the impacts ofglobal change on coastal ecosystems and the development ofmanagement approaches to mitigate the effects of global change. These studies involve ecological, economic, and social elements. Global change impacts include changes in temperature, rainfall, river discharge, wetland loss, salinity, sea level rise, and changes in hurricanes frequency and strength, inducing uncertainties in the environmental stability ofcoastal critical habitats and their economic development. A range ofgeomorphological impacts of such climatic oscillation has been recognized, such as alteration in stream flow and sediment yield, mass movement frequencies and coastal erosion, subsidence and sea level rise [42–44,92,93].

6.4. Coastal wetlands restoration

Tropical/sub-tropical GulfofMexico wetlands show dramatic annual losses of approximately 250 km 2 per year (conservative amount). These losses are due to a combination ofhuman and natural factors, including subsidence, shoreline erosion, freshwater and sediment deprivation, urban expansion, agriculture and livestock, saltwater intrusion, oil and gas canals, navigation channels, and grazing by herbivores. Concern over this loss exists because ofthe living resources and economies development on tropical/sub tropical Gulfcoast resources. Coastal wetlands provide habitat for fisheries, waterfowl, neotropical birds, and furbearers; protection for oil and gas exploration and production, and water-borne commerce, amenities for recreation, tourism, flood protection; and the context for a culture unique to the GulfofMexico. In response to the rapid loss ofcoastal wetlands, a broad effort has been initiated by local governments, private interests, and the academic and conservation community, for planning, constructing, operating,


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maintaining, monitoring, and evaluating restoration projects throughout coastal wetlands [7,9,78].

6.5. Environmental sustainability and the economic development of the coastal zone

In this area, researchers search for a balanced approach for economic development ofthe coastal zone in a way that does not compromise the integrity ofthe coastal-marine environment. Elements ofthis approach include avoiding ecological deterioration, characterization ofsustainable development, quantifying ecological and environmental damage, development and refinement of methods to determine environmental quality, quantification ofecological functions, and economic valuation of natural resources [5,11,74]. Additionally, Costanza [94] pointed out that practical problem solving in complex, human- dominated ecosystems requires the integration ofthree elements: (1) active and ongoing visioning ofboth how the world works and how we would like the world to be, (2) systematic analysis appropriate to and consistent with the vision, and (3) implementation appropriate to the vision. From the ecological economics point ofview, scientists generally focus on only the second ofthese steps, but integrating all three is essential to both good science and effective management [94].

6.6. Integrated coastal zone management ICZM

For effective ICZM, sustainable development is the keystone concept [95], and comprehensive knowledge ofthe ecosystem structure and its operation is the base for sustainability [96]. ICZM is a dynamic process, by which the use decisions, development, and protection ofthe coastal areas and its natural resources imply a balance among natural vocation ofthe land, climate and landscape, with the potential land use change ofcoastal zone and protection ofcertain natural areas. In reality, a successful program is based on a comprehensive and integrated planning process, which aims at harmonizing cultural, economic, and environmental values and balancing environmental protection and economic development with a minimum ofregulation; management without an appropriate planning process tends to be neither integrated nor comprehensive, but rather a sectoral activity [96–98]. ICZM should be done in a way that balances ecological, social, and economic factors [10,69,94,99,100].


This contribution is being sponsored by the Louisiana Sea Grant Program, National Oceanic ofAtmospheric Administration (NOAA Grant No. NA16RG2249 yr-2004/05). Agreement ofunderstanding between LSU, U.S., and INECOL Mexico.


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