To the east, the Gulf Coast eco-region begins with the swampy western coast of Florida, including the Everglades in the southern tip of the state. In the Everglades, shallow sheets of water flow slowly towards the ocean, creating freshwater sloughs, or low-lying areas of land that channel water. Mangroves grow up and down Florida's coast and can survive in the salty coastal waters, providing feeding and nesting places for shrimp and fish with their long roots. Further west, the Mississippi River empties into the ocean, creating an estuary where salt water from the Gulf of Mexico mixes with fresh Mississippi water. The vast acres of wetlands here are home to many commercially important species, such as oysters and blue crabs. On the western side of the Gulf Coast eco-region, the longest barrier island in the world, Padre Island, lies along the coast of Southern Texas and forms the Laguna Madre lagoon. Padre Island's uninhabited beaches are one of the most important nesting places for sea turtles, including the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.
Although the Gulf Coast eco-region is one of North America's most diverse and productive, frequent hurricanes on the coast, fires in the dry upland areas and the pounding ocean surf ensure that these ecosystems are constantly responding to the demanding climate.