With an ecosystem that encompasses barrier islands, seagrass beds, meandering waterways, and maritime forests, the Mississippi Coast celebrates a cultural heritage tied to its diverse lands and waters. Mississippi Sound is the centerpiece of the state’s 86-mile-long coast.
Key to maintaining the intricate ecological balance of the Sound are the coast’s barrier islands, which also help defend local communities against storms and hurricanes. Four of these islands and a portion of a fifth island are protected under the Gulf Islands National Seashore, while two are federally designated wilderness areas.
This complex system supports main sectors of the state’s economy, particularly the tourism, shipping, and seafood industries. Commercial and recreational fishing generate more than $700 million in sales annually and support more than 5,000 jobs. Nearly one in five jobs on the coast is tourism-related. Each year the Mississippi sites of the Gulf Islands National Seashore draw nearly 900,000 visitors, generating $32 million for the local economy and supporting more than 540 local jobs.
In total, Mississippi is certain to receive more than $1.3 billion dollars that can be used for restoration as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. More than a quarter of these funds have already been awarded or are in the process of being committed to projects that include improving water quality, restoring and protecting critical habitats, and benefiting birds, oysters, fish, and sea turtles. The remaining money will become available over the next decade and a half.
Dantzler Coastal Preserve Restoration
This project will restore a total of 900 acres (500 acres of estuarine marsh and 400 acres of longleaf pine savannah) within Dantzler Coastal Preserve, which is part of the state’s larger Pascagoula River Marsh Preserve. The Dantzler property suffered less direct wind and tidal surge damage than many of the other Coastal Preserves during Hurricane Katrina. However, serious long-term consequences are anticipated due to the distribution of Chinese tallow tree propagules across the site. The effort to regain control of Chinese tallow throughout the site and cleanup residual storm debris would be greatly aided by first conducting comprehensive prescribed burns. Restoring access that was lost due to storm downfall can be accomplished as part of the preparation for prescribed burning. There would be prescribed fires, 400 acres of invasive species control via spraying and cutting, 75 acres of reforestation and monitoring.
Fish and Waterfowl Benefits
The Pascagoula River Marsh Preserve consists of 11,500 acres that includes essentially all marsh associated with the mouth of the Pascagoula River. Tidal marsh serves as a nursery for recreationally and commercially important fisheries, filters water from rivers before the reach the Gulf, and function as buffers from coastal storms. Boaters and anglers also use the Pascagoula River Marsh area on occasional and seasonal basis for waterfowl hunting (sparingly) and fishing.
Gulf Islands National Seashore Land Acquisition
Gulf Islands National Seashore spans two barrier islands chains off the Mississippi Coast and Florida Panhandle. This project will permanently protect roughly 250 acres on Horn Island, through the acquisition of an outstanding 50 percent interest held in private ownership. These inholdings within the Gulf Islands National Seashore are among the highest acquisition priorities for the National Park Service. Its permanent protection would support a variety of wildlife species, would increase storm surge protection and would facilitate and public use of the property.
Fish and Waterfowl Benefits
Horn Island is one of the few nationally designated barrier island wilderness areas in the national park system, and provides excellent feeding, resting, and wintering habitat for numerous types of neotropical migrants and wintering waterfowl. In particular, the lands to be acquired provide nesting habitats for sea turtles, grazing seagrass beds for migrating manatees, as well as important barrier island maritime forests and freshwater wetland areas.
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