Not sure where the Gulf of Mexico is? Maybe you’re aware that it’s located along the Gulf coast but don’t know the exact boundaries, or maybe you’re trying to figure out if it’s part of the Atlantic Ocean or not. We’re here to help!
In this guide, we explain exactly where the Gulf of Mexico is and what its boundaries are, and we include a Gulf of Mexico map so you can see a visual of it. To complete your Gulf of Mexico knowledge, we also go over all the key information you should know about its physical geography and history. We end with some fun facts about the Gulf (spoiler alert: it’s home to a lot of sharks!).
Where Is the Gulf of Mexico?
The Gulf of Mexico (Golfo de México in Spanish) is located in the Atlantic Ocean, and the majority of it is bordered by the United States and Mexico. To its north, northeast, and northwest, the Gulf of Mexico is bordered by the Gulf Coast of the United States (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida). To the south and southwest, the Gulf of Mexico is bordered by Mexico. To the southeast, it's bounded by the Caribbean Sea and Cuba.
Here’s a Gulf of Mexico map:
What Is the Physical Geography of the Gulf of Mexico?
Gulfs are large bodies of saltwater that can be navigated and are nearly surrounded by land. They connect a sea/ocean to a landmass and often have narrower openings than bays (although this isn’t a hard rule).
In geographic terms, the Gulf of Mexico is also an ocean basin. An ocean basin is simply any large area covered with seawater and located below sea level. All major bodies of saltwater, including the oceans, are ocean basins.
So is the Gulf of Mexico an ocean? No, although many people make that mistake, as the definition of an ocean is actually somewhat vague. Both oceans and gulfs are large bodies of saltwater, but gulfs are smaller and are bordered on three sides by land. Oceans, the largest bodies of water in the world, have no exact boundaries, and they are bordered by seas (the Caribbean Sea separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean). The Gulf of Mexico is shallower, saltier, and warmer than the Atlantic Ocean. Although it has its own name and boundaries, the Gulf of Mexico can be considered part of the Atlantic Ocean as oceans have no hard boundaries.
The Gulf’s basin is unusually flat, with a gradient of only about 1 foot per every 8,000 feet. The Gulf of Mexico covers roughly 615,000 mi² (1.6 million km²) and is about 930 miles (1,500 km) wide. It contains about 2,500 quadrillion liters of saltwater.
A Brief History of the Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico was likely formed roughly 300 million years ago when part of the ocean floor gradually sank due to plate tectonics. The area then filled with seawater, forming the Gulf of Mexico.
Although Native Americans living in the region used the Gulf of Mexico for centuries as a source of food and building materials, the first European to explore the Gulf was Italian Amerigo Vespucci in 1497. Additional explorers, such as Francisco Hernández de Córdoba Pánfilo de Narváez later explored the area, often capturing and enslaving local people as they did so.
Over the centuries, people continued to use the Gulf of Mexico as a source of food and resources, as well as for navigation. Population along the Gulf coast exploded in the 1950s, and the rising number of people living along the Gulf resulted in increased pollution problems. Today, the most serious pollution threats to the Gulf of Mexico come from oil drilling and agricultural runoff. “Red tide” algae blooms in the Gulf have led to large die-offs of marine species, and the Gulf of Mexico is reported to contain one of the highest levels of microplastics in the world.
Due to the warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes regularly form there. One of the most devastating was Hurricane Katrina, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico in 2005 and caused over 1,200 deaths and $125 billion in damage, mostly concentrated in New Orleans, Louisiana and surrounding areas.
The Gulf of Mexico has been a source of oil since 1938, when the first oil well was drilled there. It has grown to become one of the world’s most important offshore petroleum production sites, and about 17% of the US’s oil comes from there. On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform caused the largest oil spill in history. Roughly 4.9 million barrels worth of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, causing massive damage to marine, wildlife, and fishing habitats. It’s considered one of the worst natural disasters in history, and efforts to reverse some of the damage that was caused are still ongoing. Today, there are roughly 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells underneath the Gulf.
11 Interesting Facts About the Gulf of Mexico
Still interested in learning more about the Gulf of Mexico? Here are 11 facts about the Gulf.
The Gulf of Mexico is the largest gulf in the world, as well as the world’s 9th largest body of water.
Over 40 species of sharks live in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these Gulf of Mexico sharks include bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, and lemon sharks.
The Gulf of Mexico is fed by the waters of 33 American rivers, the largest of which is the Mississippi River.
The Gulf of Mexico is bordered by 1,680 miles of US coastline.
Shrimp and oysters are the most common fish products harvested from the Gulf.
About 5 million acres of wetlands border the Gulf of Mexico.
How deep is the Gulf of Mexico? While most of the Gulf of Mexico is fairly shallow, its deepest point is Sigsbee Deep, which has an estimated maximum depth of 14,383 feet!
There have been over 750 known shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf Stream, a warm Atlantic current, originates in the Gulf of Mexico and influences the climate of both the east coast of the United States and the west coast of Europe. It often raises the Gulf of Mexico water temperature, which can also lead to the formation and strengthening of hurricanes.
Fish caught in the Gulf of Mexico make up about ⅕ of the total catch in the US.
Black coral that grows in the Gulf of Mexico is thought to be one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. The coral is estimated to be over 2,000 years old.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.