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The majority of information contained on this page represents a summary of Gulf explorations as described by Galtsoff (1954a), and Darnell and Defenbaugh (1990). Works cited within these documents are noted as appropriate.
1494 Columbus' second voyage takes him to the western end of Cuba, but he does not enter the Gulf of Mexico.
1497 Amerigo Vespucci finds safe harbor in Campeche Bay, north of Tabasco. Some sources claim he reached as far north as Tampico (Thacher, 1896).
1502 Alberto Cantino produces a map of the world. The western portion of the map shows for the first time the west coast of Florida and the adjacent part of the Gulf.
1507 German cartographer Waldseemüller produces a map of the world showing the new world labeled as "America", in honor of Amerigo Vespucci. The Gulf of Mexico is crudely visible next to the newly discovered continent.
1513 Ponce de León officially discovers Florida and sails southward to the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas. He notes the existence of a strong current on the east coast of Florida, which represents the first record of the Gulf Stream.
1516 Diego Miruelo explores Florida.
1518 Alaminos and Juan de Grijalva sail to the Yucatan and discover Isla de Santa Cruz, presently Isla de Cozumel. Sailing north, they enter and name the Boca de Terminos (Laguna de Terminos). They then travel >1000 miles along the coast to present-day Tampico, recording many bays and rivers, and making very accurate estimates of latitude. Other hydrographical information such as current observations and depth soundings are also made.
1519 Alaminos and Hernando Cortés further explore Laguna de Terminos. Sailing north past Tampico they discover a large river which they name Rio Grande de Panuco.
Don Alonzo Álvarez de Pineda explores the west coast of Florida and the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He encounters a large river which he names Rio del Espiritu Santu. He names the water east of the river delta "Mar Pequeña" and describes the character of the coastline including dunes, sandspits, bays, marshes, and oyster beds. Although most agree that the river encountered by Pineda was the Mississippi (Harrisse, 1900), some argue that he actually explored present-day Mobile Bay (Scaife, 1892). Regardless, Pineda's expedition provided a great deal of knowledge about the outline of the Gulf coast and resulted in the production of a new map, "Traza de Costas de Tierra Firme y las Tierras Nuevas" in 1521.
1521 Ponce de León explores Florida and is killed in Charlotte Harbor. The expedition fails to increase knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico.
1528 Pánfilo de Narváez and Cabeza de Vaca sail north to Florida from Cuba and take shelter from a storm in Bahia de Santa Cruz, present-day Tampa Bay. A land party is dispatched and the Apalachicola River is discovered. After many years and much hardship, Cabeza de Vaca returns to Europe in 1536. During his time on the continent he was able to travel west and document the Mississippi River, explore Tampa Bay, and greatly increase geographical knowledge of the area.
1539-1542 Fernando de Soto travels to Apalachee Bay and sends Diego Maldenado further north where he discovers Pensacola Bay. The expedition sails west to Mobile and then travels north over land and crosses the Mississippi River near present-day Memphis, Tennessee. This confirms the idea that the Mississippi was a river draining from a large continent. De Soto perishes in 1542, and the party returns to Mobile where they make the first record of tar/asphalt deposits on gulf beaches (Garcilaso de la Vega, 1605).
1564 Jacques LeMoyne produces a map of Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico using a great deal of information borrowed from Spanish explorers.
1591 A map of the Gulf is published by DeBry and is used by the Dutch and French for 50 years, but ignored by the Spanish.
Early 1600's Limited advancement in knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico.
1673 Frenchmen Louis Joliet and Father Marquette attempt to travel the Mississippi from Lake Michigan south, but stop at the Arkansas River.
1682 LaSalle leads an expedition south from Illinois to the mouth of the Mississippi and claims the area for the French.
1684 LaSalle attempts to establish a colony at the Mississippi delta but misses and lands at Matagorda Bay, Texas, instead. LaSalle's sketch of the bay, including soundings, was later reproduced by Dunn (1917).
1686 Spanish attempts to seek out and destroy French colonies result in a great expansion of knowledge of the Gulf.
1693 Rediscovery of Pensacola Bay. Admiral Pez and Dr. Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora describe the configuration, depths, islands and rivers of Pensacola Bay.
1719 Frenchman Guillaume Delisle produces a chart of Louisiana and the Mississippi river. First mention of Texas in writing (Los Teijas). The Delisle map later became a major reference for cartographers (Kohl, 1857).
Lemoyne de Sérigny observes the northern Gulf coast and produces a map of Pensacola Bay including currents and tidal ranges.
1720 French engineer Bernard de la Harpe is dispatched to the newly established city of New Orleans. Many of his observations are incorporated into the de Beauvilliers map of 1720 which shows streams, mountains, towns, and villages along the Gulf coast, and islands off the Yucatan.
Devin produces a map of the Louisiana coast showing soundings, shallows, and reefs in St. Louis Bay.
1733 The British produce, "A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements adjacent thereto".
1746 Don José Antonio de Villaseñor y Sanchez produces a map for the Spanish, "Icomismo hidroterro ó Mapa Geographico de la America Septentrional".
1742 Jacques Nicolas Bellin conducts a detailed survey of the Louisiana coast and the course of the Mississippi River. He also constructs a detailed plan of Pensacola Bay. In 1754 his map of the Gulf is published in Prévost's "Histoire générale des voyages" (1736-89). Maps of the western Gulf are still lacking.
1764 George Gauld is ordered to construct an Admiralty chart of West Florida and Louisiana.
1774 Captain Bernard Romans develops a chart of East and West Florida, and includes a list of native plants and fishes (Romans, 1776).
1775 Map of the British and French dominions in North America published in London by John Mitchell. The map is used by American and British diplomats at the Paris Peace Conference (1782-83) but shows only a small portion of the northern Gulf.
1800's Significant progress is made in Gulf of Mexico geography. Charts and maps become quite accurate. Don Juan Langára produces one of the best charts of the time in 1805.
1816-1843The first U.S. Coast Survey is conducted, but contains no information pertaining to the Gulf coast.
1839 U.S.S. Vandalia conducts a hydrographic research cruise between Galveston, TX and the southwest pass of the Mississippi River.
1845 U.S. Coast Survey commences a study of the Gulf coast charting the major geographical features, water circulation, and bottom composition. The study continues as the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
1850 Louis Agassiz begins a biological survey of the reefs and the topography of Florida (Agassiz, 1880).
1856 Laurie's map of the Gulf is produced in London and a similar chart appears in a French navigational manual for the Gulf and Caribbean. Both are highly accurate and the French chart includes indications of prevailing currents (Kerhallet, 1853).
1858 Maury's (1858) book on the physical geography of the sea contains only a brief mention of the waters of the Gulf.
1867 Dredging of deep-sea bottom waters between Florida and Cuba is conducted aboard U.S. Coast Survey ships Corwin and Bibb. This results in many new biological records (Pourtalés, 1863-69).
1875-1878 Lt. Commander Sigsbee explores the Gulf aboard the U.S. Coast Survey vessel Blake. The three cruises of the Blake (1877-1880) become a pivotal event in Gulf exploration. Alexander Agassiz (1888) conducts a study of the structure and origin of coral reefs, and of the distribution of fishes and invertebrates at depths of up to 2000 fathoms. Collections obtained from the Blake expeditions are used in studies of corals, antipatharians, crinoids, crustaceans, echinoderms, hydroids, annelids, mollusks, and many other organisms. (Pourtalés, 1870, 1880; Agassiz 1878, 1883; Clarke, 1879; Ehlers, 1879; Dall, 1880, 1886, 1889).
1883 The recently established U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries (1871) orders the construction of the 1,000-ton steamer Albatross which, upon returning from the Caribbean, was ordered to conduct observations in the Gulf of Mexico.
1884 Albatross commences two years of exploration and research in the Gulf, including studies of fishery resources (Stearns, 1884, 1887a, 1887b; Stearns and Jordan, 1887; Collins, 1896-1898). U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries steamer Fish Hawk surveys oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay, St. George Sound, Florida (Swift, 1897), and the inshore waters of Alabama.
1901-1903 Fish Hawk conducts sponge studies on the west coast of Florida and the Florida Keys.
1902 The Gulf Biologic Station is established on the banks of Calcasieu Pass, Cameron, Louisiana. Research at the laboratory focuses on oysters, scallops, and clams in the waters of Louisiana. The station is abandoned in 1912 but publishes the Bulletin of the Gulf Biologic Station from 1902-1910.
1904 The Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. establishes a marine lab at Loggerhead Key, Dry Tortugas. The Papers from Tortugas Laboratory contain some of the most prolific early knowledge of marine life in the Gulf.
1914 Soley (1914) summarizes hydrographical data from the Gulf on a chart entitled, "The Gulf Stream in the Gulf of Mexico". The chart shows the Sigsbee Deep, the direction of primary and countercurrents, and the Central Sea.
1917 U.S. Bureau of Fisheries research ship Grampus conducts a study of the shrimp grounds from Key West to Aransas Pass, TX (U.S. Bureau of Fish., 1919).
1926 Oyster bottoms of Texas bays are surveyed by Galtsoff (1931).
1929 Pearson (1929) emphasizes the relationship between the Gulf and its inland waters in a study of estuary-related fishes and shrimp.
1932 The Yale oceanographic vessel Mabel Taylor investigates the relationship between the Gulf waters and the Yucatan and Florida Straits (Parr, 1935).
1934 The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) ship Atlantis conducts observations in the Caribbean, Gulf, and adjacent straits (Parr, 1937a, 1937b).
1935 The U.S. Bureau of Fisheries establishes a temporary laboratory at Apalachicola Bay. The laboratory is moved to Pensacola in 1937.
1936-1939 First detailed work on the hydrography of Texas waters (Collier and Hedgpeth, 1950).
1942 University of Miami establishes a marine laboratory at Coral Gables, Florida.
1947 The Atlantis (WHOI) surveys 551 stations in the western Gulf between the Sigsbee Deep and the Louisiana-Texas coast.
The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory is established at Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
1949 The Texas Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission is established in Rockport, TX.
1950's Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution issues a detailed chart of the western Gulf of Mexico using data obtained from the Atlantis cruises and other sources (U.S. Coast Survey, etc.)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fishery Bulletin 89 (Galtsoff, 1954b) summarizes current scientific knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico.
The American Petroleum Institute sponsors extensive investigations of the Texas-Louisiana coast continental shelf (Shepard, 1960).
1960-1990 Numerous marine laboratories and associated institutions are established along the Gulf coast. In addition to continued study by independent researchers, a number of large multidisciplinary investigations are undertaken to explore the Gulf. Darnell and Defenbaugh (1990) summarize the major studies of the past 30 years.
2000 A generous donation by Mr. Ed Harte gives origin to the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, in Corpus Christi, Texas.
2002 The first expedition promoted by the Harte
Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, in collaboration with
Society's Sustainable Seas Expeditions and the
Mexican Navy's Oceanographic Institute, takes scientists to the
Veracruz Coral Reef System, in Mexico. Exploration purposes include
the assessment of the status of the reef system, aiming at the
understanding and protection of Gulf of Mexico resources.
Agassiz, L. 1878. II. Report on the echini by A. Agassiz, crinoids and corals by L.F. Pourtalés, and ophiurans by Theodore Lyman preceded by a bibliographical notice of the publications relating to the deep-sea investigations carried out by the U.S. Coast Survey. In: Reports on the results of dredging. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 5(9):181-252.
Agassiz, L. 1880. Report on the Florida reefs. Mem. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 7(1):61 pp., 23 pls.
Agassiz, L. 1883. I. Report on echini. In: Reports on the results of dredging by the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Blake. Mem. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 10:94 pp., 32 pls.
Clarke, S.F. 1879. Report on the Hydroida collected during the exploration of the Gulf Stream and the Gulf of Mexico by Alexander Agassiz, 1877-78. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 5 (10):239-252.
Collier, A., and J. Hedgpeth. 1950. An introduction to the hydrography of tidal waters of Texas. Pub. Inst. Mar. Sci. 1(2):125-194.
Collins, J.W. 1887. Report on the discovery and investigations of fishing grounds make by the Fish Commission steamer Albatross with notes on the Gulf fisheries. U.S. Comm. Fish and Fisheries, Rept. of the Commissioner for 1885, App. B, 89 pp., 10 pls. Washington.
Dall, W.H. 1880. General conclusions from a preliminary examination of the mollusks. In: Report on the results of dredging by the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Blake. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 6 (3):85-92.
Dall, W.H. 1886. Report on the Mollusca. Part I: Brachiopoda and Pelecypoda. In: Report on the results of dredging by the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Blake. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 12:171-318, 9 pls.
Dall, W.H. 1889. Report on the Mollusca. Part II. Gastropoda and Scaphopoda. In: Report on the results of dredging by the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Blake. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 18: 1-492, 40 pls.
Darnell, R.M. and R.E. Defenbaugh. 1990. Gulf of Mexico: Environmental overview and history of environmental research. American Zoologist 30:3-6.
Dunn, W.E. 1917. Spanish and French rivalry in the Gulf region of the United States, 1678-1702; the beginnings of Texas and Pensacola. Univ. Texas Bull. 1705, 238 pp., 1 fold. Map., Jan. 20. Austin, TX.
Ehlers, E. 1879. Preliminary report on the worms. In: Reports on the results of dredging by the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Blake. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 5(12):269-274.
Galtsoff, P.S. 1931. Survey of oyster bottoms in Texas. U.S. Bur. Fish., Investigational Rept. No. 6, 30 pp. Washington.
Galtsoff, P.S. 1954a. Gulf of Mexico its origin, waters, and marine life. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fishery Bulletin 89. Fishery Bulletin of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Vol. 55., 604 pp.,Washingon, D.C.
Galtsoff, P.S. 1954b. Historical sketch of the explorations in the Gulf of Mexico. In: Gulf of Mexico its origin, waters, and marine life. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fishery Bulletin 89. Fishery Bulletin of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Vol. 55., 604 pp.,Washingon, D.C.
Garcilaso de la Vega, The Inca. 1605. The Florida of the Inca. A history of the Adelantado, Hernando de Soto. Translated and edited by J.G. Varner and J.J. Varner, 1951. 655 pp. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Harrisse, H. 1900. Découverte et évolution cartographique de terrneuve et des pays circonvoisins 1497-1501-1769. Essais de Géographie historique et documentaire. 420 pp. Henry Stevens, Son & Stiles, London. H. Welter, Editeur, Paris.
Kerhallet, Charles-Phillipe De. 1853. Manuel de navigation dans la Mer des Antilles et dans le Golfe du Mexique. 2 vols., 3 fold. Maps. Paris.
Kohl, J.G. 1857. A descriptive catalogue of those maps, charts, and surveys relating to America, which are mentioned in vol. III of Hakluyt's great work. Washington.
Maury, M.F. 1858. The physical geography of the sea. XXIV, 25, 274 pp. incl. map, 3d ed. Harper and Bros., New York.
Moore, H.F. 1907. Survey of the oyster bottoms in Matagorda Bay, Texas. U.S. Bur. Fish. Doc. 610, 86 pp., 13 pls., 1 map. Washington.
Moore, H.F. 1913a. Condition and extent of the natural oyster beds and barren bottoms of Mississippi east of Biloxi. U.S. Bur. Fish. Doc. 774, pp. 1-41, 6 pls., 1 map.
Moore, H.F. 1913b. Condition and extent of the natural oyster beds and barren bottoms of Mississippi Sound, Alabama. U.S. Bur. Fish. Doc. 769, pp. 1-61, 5 pls., 1 map.
Moore, H.F. and E. Danglade. 1915. Condition and extent of the natural oyster beds and barren bottoms of Lavaca Bay, Texas. Rept. U.S. Comm. Fish., 1914, App. II, 45 pp., 5 pls. 1 map. Washington.
Parr, A.E. 1935. Report on the hydrographic observations in the Gulf of Mexico and the adjacent straits made during the Yale Oceanographic Expedition on the Mabel Taylor in 1932. Bull. Bingham Oceanog. Coll. 5(1): 1-93. New Haven.
Pourtalés, L.F. De. 1863-69. Contribution to the fauna of the Gulf Stream at great depths. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 1:121-142.
Pourtalés, L.F. De. 1870. Preliminary report on the Curstacea dredged in the Gulf stream in the Straits of Florida. Part I. Brachyura. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 2: 109-160.
Pourtalés, L.F. De. 1880. VI. Reports on the corals and antipatharia. In: Reports on the results of dredging by the U.S. Coast Survey steamer Blake. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard Coll. 6(4):95-118.
Romans, B. 1776. A concise natural history of East and West Florida. 342 pp. New York.
Scaife, W.B. 1892. America: its geographical history, 1492-1892. Six lectures delivered to graduate students of the Johns Hopkins University; with a supplement entitled: Was the Rio del Espiritu Santo of the Spanish geographers the Mississippi? 176 pp. The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.
Shepard, F.P., Phleger, F.B., and T.H. von Andel (eds). 1960. Recent sediments, northwest Gulf of Mexico. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. Tulsa, Oklahoma. 394 pp.
Soley, J.C. 1914. The Gulf Stream in the Gulf of Mexico, by Lieut. John C. Soley, U.S.N., in charge of the Branch Hydrographic Office at New Orleans, La. Reprinted from the Pilot Chart of the North Atlantic Ocean for June 1914. Washington.
Stearns, S. 1884. On the position and character of the fishing grounds of the Gulf of Mexico. Bull. U.S. Fish Comm. 11: 289-290.
Stearns, S. 1887a. The fishing grounds of the Gulf of Mexico belonging to the United States, 1887. In: The Fisheries and Fishery Industry of the United States by George Brown Goode. Sec. III, pp. 55-60. Washington.
Stearns, S. 1887b. The red snapper fishery and the Havana market fishery of Key West, Florida. In: The Fisheries and Fishery Industry of the United States by George Brown Goode. Sec. V, 1, (10): 585-594.
Stearns, S. and D.S. Jordan. 1887. Fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico. In: The Fisheries and Fishery Industry of the United States by George Brown Goode. Sec. II, (15):533-587. Washington.
Swift, F. 1897. Report of a survey of the oyster regions of St. Vincent Sound, Apalachicola Bay, and St. George Sound, Florida. U.S. Comm. Fish and Fish., Rep. Of the Comm. for 1896, App. 4, pp 187-221, fold. map. Washington.
Thacher, J.B. 1896. The continent of America: its discovery and its baptism. W. E. Benjamin, NY. 270 pp.
United States Bureau of Fisheries, 1919. Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1917. P. 80. Washington.
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