tive, vegetated intertidal zones and wetlands along the shore to less productive benthic and pelagic habitats of the open waters. These habitats provide the setting for the Gulf’s prolific biodiversity—plants, animals, and microorganisms—whose maintenance is essential to healthy and stable ecosystems.

The GoM is a rich environment with abundant natural resources, diverse habitats, and biodiversity. Many human communities live in the region and rely on the various ecosystem services for their economic livelihood. In addition to the estimated 20.4 million residents, the Gulf of Mexico is home to oil and gas production, commercial fisheries, transportation, and recreational industries. The GoM is highly productive in both renewable and non-renewable resources. Fisheries and tourism have long co-existed with the petrochemical industry along much of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, with the exception of Florida.

Renewable and living resources and the food webs and habitats that support them were exposed to varying levels of toxicity and exposure to oil and natural gas from the Macondo well. The effects of the oiling are currently being assessed in many habitats, across complex food webs, with regard to short- and long-term impacts, as altered biogeochemical cycling, and in relationship to ecosystem functioning. Some GoM ecosystems and processes are well known, but knowledge in many cases may be sparse. This uneven understanding of the ecosystem and processes is not uncommon but creates uncertainty that has to be acknowledged as data and findings are synthesized. The ability to detect impacts of the oil spill by way of the health of organisms or the level of ecosystem functioning will require adequate data and multiple lines of evidence of altered ecosystem processes. Failure to recognize essential factors or processes within (and between) ecosystems of the Gulf region may result in improper characterization or in misrepresentation of the full range of ecosystem functions that support ecosystem services.

Finding 1.1: The Gulf of Mexico comprises a large, complex ecosystem that has been and continues to be subject to both natural and human forces of change. Hence, the baselines against which the impact of the spill can be assessed are both spatially and temporally dynamic.

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