Since its inception back in 1996, START has been a leader in promoting educational outreach for the general public about the marine environment. Initially START’s prime focus was addressing the harmful effects of red tide blooms as they ravaged Florida’s west coast and even managed to ride the loop current and the Gulfstream all the way to Jacksonville on the northeast coast. When it appears, red tide remains a major concern for our seacoast communities because of its harmful effects on the marine environment, human health and recreation and Florida’s economy. As a result, START will remain proactive in the area of scientific research seeking methods to control red tide and in educational outreach programs that alert the public to its arrival and warn people about its harmful effects to humans and the environment.
However, as the years have gone by, more and more of our members have asked us to broaden our scope of educational outreach to include the whole spectrum of improving the quality of our coastal waters. This is why START has been so pleased with our partnership with The Sanibel Sea School, the Sanibel-Captiva START Chapter and Lee County Schools that led to the creation of the Coastal Classroom website. Thanks to this innovative marine educational facility, people from all over the world can learn about the special importance of the Gulf of Mexico.
Bordered by the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas on the north and Mexico to the west and Cuba to the southeast, the Gulf of Mexico is about 1,000 miles across from east to west and about 550 miles north to south. About the size of the U.S.’s largest state, Alaska, it is the ninth largest body of water in the world. In comparison, it is twice the size of Hudson Bay and about half the size of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Gulf gets a supply of fresh water from over 150 rivers and runoff from 31 of the 50 United States and it is linked to the Atlantic Ocean by the Florida Strait and the Caribbean Sea by the Yucatan Channel. A relatively shallow body of water averaging about 5,000 feet in depth, compared to the open ocean with an average depth of 12,500 feet, the warm waters of the Gulf support a wide diversity of sea life. The spectrum of sea life in the Gulf runs a wide range from the huge whale shark, the largest fish in the sea, with a length of 40 feet and weighing 80,000 pounds to microscopic plankton and algae. Ringing the Gulf in many coastal areas are mangroves, a unique aquatic tree, that can survive in salt water and drops leaves that decay and become valuable rich nutrients for fish nurseries and other small sea creatures.
To learn more about the importance of the Gulf of Mexico in your life and how you can help preserve it and the sea life it supports, click this link to the Coastal Classroom website at www.coastalclassroom.org.