Geography and Environment
For NOAA, the Southeast and Caribbean region is defined by the land areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the marine environment adjacent to these lands. Topography ranges from interior mountains to coastal plains to expansive or abrupt continental shelves and intervening ocean basins. The region contains over 18,000 miles of coastline, with extensive riverine, estuarine, marsh, barrier island, mangrove, and coral reef systems.
Three large marine ecosystems support a diverse assemblage of marine life, with 18 protected marine species, over 600 marine managed areas, and one of the world’s largest shallow water coral reef ecosystems. The Gulf Stream is an important influence on biological, chemical, and physical characteristics. Climate is warm-temperate to tropical. Natural hazards include severe thunderstorms and tornadoes; floods and debris flows; earthquakes; tsunamis; drought and wild fires; winter storms; ground subsidence; coastal erosion; and coastal storms including tropical storms and hurricanes.
Social and Economic Context
The Southeast and Caribbean region is socially, politically, and culturally diverse. The expansion of recreation and tourism, residential development, service industries, and commercial space is transforming the region’s social, economic, and physical state. Almost 43 million people live in the four Southeastern states of this region, while 3.8 million live in the U.S. Caribbean territories. Coastal hazards and development-driven pressures on coastal resources are major concerns, since over one-third of the southeastern population resides in coastal counties boardering the Atlantic Ocean. Over 4 million people live in flood hazard areas. In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the majority of residents live in close proximity to the coast.
Coastal recreation and tourism, transportation, and shipping are major contributors to the regional economy, especially in the Caribbean. In the four Southeastern states, ocean-dependent activities, tourism, recreation and shipping account for over $17 billion in gross domestic product, over $7 billion in wages, and about 323,000 jobs. This is more than 10% of the total U.S. economy. The region has over 35 ports and terminals that service cargo and passenger ships including some of the country’s largest and fastest growing container ports. The region also hosts the largest U.S. recreational fishery, plus major commercial, multi-species fisheries.
Capabilities and Challenges
The southeast states are among the fastest growing in the U.S., with a rapidly transforming economic base. Yet, these states are fortunate to still have some broad areas of intact and relatively healthy habitats. Unlike other areas of the country that are already more developed, the opportunity exists in the southeast to balance economic stability with protection of human health and natural resources through strategic management actions.
In the U.S. Caribbean, the economy is predominated by recreation and tourism, shipping, and fisheries. The coastal and marine environment is a key source of basic food security and livelihood. The U.S. Caribbean shares marine ecosystems with the southeast U.S., and many of the same coastal drivers and challenges.
By developing close partnerships with domestic, Caribbean, and international organizations, NOAA can better address regional trends and issues. Understanding what matters to the constituents of the region is a significant first step toward improved overall agency responsiveness.
Some of the important drivers influencing NOAA constituents in the region include:
- Continued population growth in the region’s coastal areas
- Hurricanes and other natural hazards
- Water quantity and quality impacts
- Climate change impacts
- Reduction and degradation of habitats
- Sustainability of fisheries
- Port operations and expansions
- Energy development