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Discover the Gulf of Mexico Through Maps

Picture of Fishing Boat in Pass Christian, Mississippi, by Barbara Ambrose, NOAA NCEI
Courtesy of Barbara Ambrose, NOAA NCEI

What do you know about the Gulf of Mexico? Did you know that the Gulf has over 3,500 miles of coastline? Can you name any of five sea turtle species found in the Gulf? There’s a lot to learn, and the Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas is a great way to begin.

An atlas is a collection of maps, and the Gulf Atlas has over 300 unique maps under 90 topics. Each map has a description, written by recognized subject matter experts, explaining how the data were gathered and why the information matters. Users can view all types of information from the Gulf Atlas, such as descriptions and maps of marine life, the aquatic environment, and the social and economic conditions of the Gulf.

The map represents one place to look for all types of data for users of all backgrounds. For instance, a fisherman can discover a range of information about popular Gulf fish but can also learn the location of boat ramps, marine jurisdictions, and even find average water temperatures by season to make planning a fishing trip a little easier. Scientists can download this same data for their models or other research. The atlas makes it easy for anyone to use the information.

Building on Gulf History

Officials working in the Gulf of Mexico turned to NOAA after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in April 2010. As plans began to restore the Gulf, a need arose for scientific data and information that described baseline environmental conditions there. One of the most requested resources was the Gulf of Mexico Coastal and Ocean Zones Strategic Assessment Data Atlas published by NOAA's National Ocean Service in 1985. The atlas then was a 3-foot by 2-foot hardcopy tabletop book, and only a limited number of copies were available. NOAA needed to provide access to similar data in digital form for easy discovery and ready access.

Picture of Gulf Atlas Book Photo Credit Angela Sallis, NOAA A display of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal and Ocean Zones Strategic Assessment Data Atlas published by NOAA's National Ocean Service in 1985
Photo courtesy of Angela Sallis, NOAA NCEI


The work of more than 30 partners, the Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas leverages resources among agencies and activities, exemplifying the benefits of collaborative partnership. NCEI brought together data providers from international, federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations to form a multiagency executive steering committee to guide the development of the Gulf Atlas as well as to contribute data and expertise. NCEI then developed the Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas as a web-based tool that allows users to browse data as digital map plates.

More than Gulf Maps

The Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas contains more than just maps. The atlas provides answers to questions related to the physical environment, marine resources, and economic activity in the Gulf of Mexico. The maps are divided into sections such as “Living Marine Resources” and “Economic Resources.”

Each map explains the importance of the information and contains a link to the source data. For instance, users can find information about native shrimp populations and discover statistics about trade at Gulf ports. The Gulf Atlas provides the user with the opportunity to better understand the Gulf and its value to the Nation.

Map from Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas of Brown Shrimp Populations, NOAA Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas, map of brown shrimp trawl stations