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EPA RELEASES A REPORT ON THE ECOLOGICAL CONDITIONS OF ESTUARIES IN THE GULF OF MEXICO

Release Date: 11/23/1999
Contact Information: Wesley Lambert, EPA Press Office at (404) 562-8316; Program Contacts: Lloyd Wise, EPA Region 4 at (404) 562-9270; Jim Giattina, Gulf of Mexico Program Office at (228) 688-1172
EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) has published areport today entitled, The Ecological Conditions of Estuaries in the Gulf of Mexico. This report is one in a series of "State of the Region" reports and represents a coordinated effort among personnel from ORD, U.S. Geological Survey-Biological Resources Division, EPA's Gulf of Mexico Program, and EPA Regions 4 and 6. The report summarizes the condition or status and geographical distribution of ecological resources in the Gulf of Mexico. The report is based on data collected from a variety of federal, state, and local resources, notably EPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), and is designed to appeal to a broad audience of scientists, managers, and the public.

The report is organized in three parts: (1) an introduction to estuarine ecology and the factors that impact estuaries in the Gulf of Mexico, (2) an evaluation of ecological indicators used to measure the condition of gulf estuaries, and (3) an ecological report card summarizing data on ecological indicators and providing a rating of the condition of estuaries in each gulf state and for the gulf states overall.

Findings included the following:

    • Wetlands loss was rated as severe throughout the Gulf
    • Excess nutrients can lead to problems such as algal blooms and oxygen depletion. Gulf estuaries have moderate conditions for nutrients, with the most serious problems existing in Louisiana and Texas.
    • Gulf estuaries ranked fair for low dissolved oxygen; most of the estuaries with persistent low dissolved oxygen occur east of the Mississippi River.
    • Sediments in Gulf estuaries were found to be in fair condition with respect to contaminants. The few "hot spots" were found in shipping channels and near point sources of pollution.
    • Clams, worms, and crabs, and other bottom-dwelling animals that compose the benthic community are sensitive to low oxygen levels and sediment contamination. Nearly one-fourth of estuarine areas in the northern Gulf of Mexico had degraded benthic communities.
    • Commercial landings of fish and shellfish were generally stable. This is largely due to shellfish harvesting restricitions on more than 2.4 million acres of waters out of 6.3 million acres classified as shellfish-growing waters in Gulf estuaries. These prohibitions were due to pollution.
    • In general, gulf estuaries and wetlands support large, healthy, stable populations of waterfowl and other coastal birds.
The report may be requested from ORD's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Gulf Ecology Division (850) 934-9218. Technical questions should be addressed to Gulf Ecology Division authors at (850) 934-9200. The report may also be found on the world wide web at www.epa.gov/ged.