The Gulf of Mexico is a major body of water bordered and nearly landlocked by North America.
The gulf's eastern, northern, and northwestern shores lie within the United States of America (specifically, the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas); its southwestern and southern shores lie within Mexico (specifically, the states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo); on the southeast it is bordered by Cuba. It connects with the Atlantic Ocean via the Florida Straits between the U.S. and Cuba, and with the Caribbean Sea via the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba.
(Note: In common usage, at least in the U.S., the term "Gulf Coast" usually refers to either 1) the continuous portion of the coast running from Cape Sable, Florida, to Brownsville, Texas, or 2) the continuous portion of the coast running from Cape Sable, Florida, to the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Both meanings exclude Cuba as well as the Florida Keys.)
The total area of the Gulf of Mexico is approximately 615,000 square miles, the southern third of which lies within the tropics. The Gulf stream, a warm Atlantic Ocean current and one of the strongest ocean currents known, originates in the gulf. The gulf has been visited many times by powerful Atlantic hurricanes, some of which have caused extensive human death and other destruction.
The Bay of Campeche in Mexico constitutes a major arm of the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, the gulf's shoreline is fringed by numerous bays and smaller inlets. A number of rivers empty into the gulf, most notably the Mississippi River. The land that forms the gulf's coast, including many long, narrow barrier islands, is almost uniformly low-lying and is characterized by marshes and swamps as well as stretches of sandy beach.
The continental shelf is quite wide at most points along the coast. The shelf is exploited for its oil by means of offshore drilling rigs, most of which are situated in the western gulf. Another important commercial activity is fishing; major catches include various fishes as well as shrimp and crabs, with oysters being harvested on a large scale from many of the bays and sounds. Other important industries along the coast include shipping, petrochemical processing and storage, paper manufacture, and tourism.
The gulf's coastal areas were first settled by American Indian groups, including those representing various of the advanced cultures of Mexico. During the period of European exploration and colonization the entire region became a theatre of contention between the Spanish, French and English. The present-day culture of the coastal region is primarily Spanish-American (Mexico, Cuba) and Anglo-American (U.S.).