The coastal prairies, marshes, and bays of the Gulf of Mexico are among North America’s most productive wetland systems. Tragically, they are also among the most threatened, with more than 90 percent of coastal wetland loss in the lower 48 states occurring here. The region’s ability to support migratory birds, fisheries, and other wildlife continues to decline dramatically. The invaluable energy, tourism, and shipping industries that bolster the nation’s economy are at risk due to human impacts that have erased more than a million acres of coastal marshes and prairies. Other industries, such as rice agriculture, that provide critical winter habitat for waterfowl along the western Gulf Coast, have declined significantly due to demands on land and water.
In spite of these losses, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan calls for the Gulf Coast habitats of Louisiana and Texas to winter up to 15 million waterfowl, making it North America’s single-most important wintering area and one of DU’s highest conservation priorities. It provides year-round habitat for 90 percent of the continent’s mottled ducks, as well as wintering habitat for 95 percent of gadwall, 80 percent of green-winged teal and redheads, and 60 percent of lesser scaup.
How long can this area sustain such vast populations of waterfowl in the face of such incredible rates of habitat loss? Recent studies have shown that the Gulf Coast may already have lost nearly 40 percent of its capacity for supporting wintering waterfowl. This means the loss of Gulf Coast habitat is one of the greatest waterfowl crises on the continent. Worse yet, as habitat losses to erosion, salt-water intrusion, development, and limited water availability continue, the crisis worsens.