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Test Your Knowledge About the Gulf of Mexico!
1) Which of the following states is on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico?
2) When does Hurricane Season begin in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean?
a. June 1
b. December 1
c. August 30
d. February 14
3) A coastal wetland is an ecosystem where saltwater meets land, such as a salt marsh or a mangrove swamp. How many acres of coastal wetlands lie along the U.S. Gulf Coast?
b. 5 million
4) Which of these animals live in the Gulf of Mexico?
a. Orca (killer whale)
c. Sea turtle
d. All of the above
5) What can you do to help the Gulf of Mexico?
a. Learn more about the Gulf’s environment
b. Participate in a cleanup of your local waterway
c. Create a bird habitat in your backyard or schoolyard
d. All of the above
What happens in an oil spill?
An oil spill occurs when there is an accident on an oil tanker or oil well. An example is the oil spill that began in April, 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sprung a leak at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, causing the largest oil spill in United States history. Oil also enters the Gulf and other waterways when it leaks from our cars onto streets. Rainwater washes it down storm drains, which flow into rivers, lakes and oceans.
What happens to oil when it is in the water, and how is a spill cleaned up? Try this activity to find out.
What you need:
- 1 aluminum pie pan or glass baking pan
- 3 tablespoons of cooking oil
- Cotton balls
- Paper towels
What to do:
- Fill the pan half-way with water. Create an “oil spill” by pouring the oil slowly onto the water. What happens to the oil?
- Blow across the water’s surface to simulate wind and waves. How do the water and oil interact?
- Try cleaning up the oil with each of the materials. Which one works best? Are there any that don’t work?
- Dip a feather into the oil. What does the oil do to the feather? How might an oil spill affect a bird?
- Pour a few more drops of oil into the water, and add a few drops of liquid detergent, which represents chemical dispersant. What happens to the oil now?
Image: Brown pelican, courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Gulf of Mexico Oil
Did you know that oil is made of small plants and animals that died in the ocean millions of years ago?
Over time, they decayed and were buried under layers of sand and silt.
Eventually, this material formed underground oil reserves at the bottom of lakes and oceans, including the Gulf of Mexico (click on the image to see a diagram of this process).
Oil is a type of fossil fuel, which is used to make energy after it is extracted from beneath the Earth’s surface.
Image courtesy of Department of Energy.
Learn fun facts about the Gulf of Mexico!
- The Gulf of Mexico is the 9th largest body of water on Earth! It contains 643 quadrillion gallons of saltwater, and its deepest point is 2.7 miles below the surface.
- The Gulf contains many types of animal habitats, such as salt marshes, underwater grasses and even coral reefs. Some deep sea reefs may be 40,000 years old!
- Hurricanes gain strength from the Gulf’s shallow, warm waters and humid air. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had wind speeds of 160 miles per hour.
- More than 400 species of shells can be found in the Gulf.
Top image courtesy of gulfeducationalliance.org; second image of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); third image of Hurricane Katrina courtesy of NOAA; bottom image of shells from Padre Island, Texas, courtesy of National Park Service.
Cool tips and tools to learn more about the Gulf of Mexico!
Tools: Learn more
- What does the Gulf look like right now? Check out a current satellite image of the eastern U.S.
- The Gulf watershed is huge! What’s a watershed?
- Ranger Rick explains the Big Oil Spill.
- Learn what species are affected by the oil spill.
- Visit the Gulf of Mexico kids page and NOAA education page.
Image: Kemp’s Ridley turtle hatchling, courtesy of National Park Service.
Tips: What You Can Do
- Participate in river or stream cleanup in your community – waterways from 31 states drain into the Gulf!
- Create a backyard bird habitat for migratory birds that usually stopover in the Gulf. Don’t have a backyard? Join a citizen science project.
- Become a Gulf Guardian and pledge to take care of the Gulf or your local waterway.
- Try these wetland and oil spill activities.
Image: Corpus Christi Bay, courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
1) a. The Gulf of Mexico coastline is called the Gulf Coast. This includes the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as well as Cuba and five states of Mexico.
2) a. “Hurricane Season” along the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines lasts from June 1 through November 30. Every 3 years, an average of 5 hurricanes land along the U.S. coastline from Texas to Maine. On average, September is the most active month for hurricanes.
3) b. The Gulf Coast contains 5 million acres of wetlands. That’s the size of 4.5 million football fields! Coastal wetlands help reduce flooding during storms. They also act as nurseries by providing habitat (food, water and shelter) for young fish and other marine animals. Mangrove trees along Florida’s coast provide habitat for an astounding 2,300 animals, including at least 42 threatened or endangered species.
4) d. All of these species live in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is home to 29 species of marine mammals, including nine dolphin, 19 whale and one manatee species. It is also home to five species of sea turtle. Even though Orca typically lives in colder polar waters, scientists estimate there are 49 of these whales living in Gulf waters.
5) d. More than 150 rivers from around the United States flow into the Gulf! By cleaning your local rivers, you can keep pollution from entering the Gulf and other major waterways. Each year, the Gulf is a temporary home to millions of migratory birds, some coming from as far away as Brazil and Canada. You can support these birds on their journey by creating a bird habitat in your community and keeping local waterways clean. Visit the other Earth Gauge Kids pages to learn more about the Gulf and what you can do to protect it!