The Gulf Coast of the United States extends from the Florida panhandle through coastal Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, to the southern tip of Texas, an area totaling over 47,000 miles. This coastal region is home to almost 21 million people (2010), 17% of whom are living below the poverty line. The region is growing at a rate that far outstrips growth in other regions of the U.S.—between 1970 and 2010, the population in the Gulf Coast increased 109%, compared to a 52% increase in the population of the U.S. as a whole. The current population of the Gulf Coast is 64% white, 30% Latinx, 19% black, and 8% Cajun.
The Gulf Coast economy, which represents 17% of U.S. gross domestic product ($2.4 trillion in 2009), is highly dependent on its natural resource base, including fisheries, waterborne commerce and ports, and oil and gas deposits. The region is home to 40% of all petroleum refining capacity and 13 of the country’s leading shipping ports per tonnage. In addition, tourism and recreation provide over 2.6 million jobs, and commercial fishing provides over 1.8 billion pounds of seafood every year.
As evidenced last year by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Gulf Coast is prone to coastal flooding and severe weather. Over 4.2 million people in the region live in flood hazard areas, and 14% of that population (almost 600,000 people) lives below the poverty line. Almost 60% of the region’s shoreline is considered vulnerable to sea level rise—including 100% of the coastline of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi—which is projected to reach three feet in the next 100 years. Significant shoreline erosion and land subsidence exacerbate sea level rise. The Mississippi Delta has lost about 25% of its wetlands—about the size of Delaware—since 1932 and continues to lose the equivalent area of a football field every 100 minutes. This wetland loss is the result of a combination of diverting the Mississippi River from delta wetlands and canals for oil and gas pipelines that destroy freshwater wetlands.
These climate change impacts disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, people of color were less likely to have the means to evacuate, and they were often the last to be rescued. Many low-income people were unable to return to New Orleans after the storm due to a decrease in affordable housing.
The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) is a regional partnership led by the five Gulf Coast states to sustain the resources of the Gulf of Mexico. This GOMA team represents the alliance’s Coastal Resilience Team, which includes professionals from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the nonprofit Smart Home America, the Texas General Land Office, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality of Pollution Control, and Allen Engineer and Science. The team is implementing its third five-year action plan, focused on planning and implementing resilience programs in local communities, with a particular emphasis on integrating equity approaches into this capacity building effort.
- GOMA is a nationally regarded regional collaborative that is supported by the governors of all five Gulf Coast states and includes a broad coalition of stakeholders, including federal agencies, academic organizations, businesses, and regional nonprofit organizations.
- GOMA engages local community leaders and decision-makers in resilience planning and implementation. They have many training resources and frameworks, including the Community Resilience Index, a framework for resilience planning, and the Gulf Tools for Resilience Exploration Engine, which offers a host of technical tools for resilience planning.
- The Gulf Star program is a public-private partnership administered by GOMA. The program is a 501c3 public charity that engages agencies, businesses, private organizations, and citizens to provide funding for projects that enhance gulf economies, including projects related to sustainable seafood, loss of critical habitats, coastal resilience, water resources, living marine resources, and coastal monitoring.
- Planning capacity – The team is working to build planning capacity to prepare for and adapt to a changing environment in order to protect human life while preserving heritage and conserving natural resources.
- Funding for equity focus – The GOMA team’s capacity-building programs need a greater focus on racial equity. They would like to implement programs like equity mapping, yet they currently lack the financial resources.
- Specificity vs. speed – Congress approved $1.83 billion in recovery funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Harvey. The team is trying to balance identifying shovel-ready recovery projects that meet the specific needs of a community with dispersing the funds in a timely manner.