Gulf 360: State of the Gulf of Mexico

Page 23

Currents and Oil Spills Water enters the Gulf through the Yucatán Strait, circulates as the “Loop Current”, and exits through the Florida Strait, eventually becoming the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. Portions of the Loop Current frequently separate forming what are called “eddies”, which affect regional current patterns. These complex patterns allow for transport of life, nutrient, and pollutants all across the Gulf. The Loop Current allows Caribbean influences throughout the Gulf. Eddies create isolated lenses of water that can incubate red tides, affect intensity of hurricanes, and transport invasive species to almost any part of the Gulf. Smaller wind-driven and tidal currents are created in nearshore environments.

Lionfish Discoveries

The Ixtoc oil spill occurred in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico in 1979 and released 3.3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over nearly 10 months. Due to Gulf currents, a significant part of the oil was transported northward into the U.S. coastal waters impacting 260 kilometers of U.S. beaches. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in 2010 off the coast of Louisiana and released an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil over a 3-month period. The oil was confined to the northern Gulf Coast by the formation of a blocking eddy. If caught in the Loop Current, it would have been transported toward southeast Florida and possibly reached very sensitive areas such as the Florida Keys.

Land & Seascape

Due to the circulation within the Gulf of Mexico, invasive species can spread easily, conquer new niches, and displace the original ones thus triggering economic and ecosystem changes. In Fall 2012 lionfish were discovered offshore in the South Texas Banks.