Mississippi Gulf Coast
The Mississippi Coast boasts a diverse ecosystem that spans barrier islands and sea grass beds, meandering waterways and maritime forests. The 86‐mile‐long Mississippi Coast has as its centerpiece the Mississippi Sound, a large ecological system including fresh and saltwater environments, with several major river systems feeding into estuarine bays that connect to the Sound.
Yet the health of Mississippi’s fragile coast is jeopardized by coastal erosion, water quality problems, and development pressures. With an annual erosion rate of 200 acres a year decimating its compact coastline and disappearing barrier islands, important coastal habitats as well as crucial storm protection for communities are rapidly being lost. Coastal development pressures have altered waterways and shorelines and paved over habitat, resulting in fragmented ecosystems and poor water quality.
Why Should You Care?
If you hunt or fish, this coastal crisis should matter to you:
- Most of Mississippi’s prized saltwater fish, including speckled trout, redfish, black drum and flounder, are dependent on the Mississippi Sound for at least part of their lifecycle.
- $700 million is generated annually in Mississippi by the commercial and recreational fishing industry.
- Nearly $2 billion each year is generated in wildlife tourism for the coast’s three counties.
- Mississippi Sound is home to thousands of wintering waterfowl, including redheads, canvasback, bufflehead and scaup.
- An estimated 120,000 recreational anglers fish along Mississippi’s coast, supporting more than 5,000 jobs.
Clearly, ecosystem restoration benefits Mississippi sportsmen AND the economy.
Priority Projects for Mississippi
Restoration projects should emphasize:
• restoring and strengthening estuarine health by revitalizing critical shorelines and wetlands,
• protecting valuable coastal habitats, and
• improving water quality.
The six environmental restoration projects identified below prioritize these challenges to restore, protect, and promote the ecologic and economic health of the Mississippi Coast. View the full explanation of these projects in NWF’s latest report.
Gulf Islands National Seashore Acquisition
Spreading 160 miles from Cat Island in Mississippi to the eastern tip of Santa Rosa Island in Florida, the Seashore includes Horn and Petit Bois Islands, both federally designated wilderness areas. The barrier islands are experiencing accelerated erosion and degradation, especially in the wake of recent hurricanes. Without action, continued erosion of the barrier islands will increase the salinity of Mississippi Sound, and compromise ecosystem integrity. Habitat protection projects on the islands and within the mainland marsh area of the Seashore will help protect the health of Mississippi Sound.
Bay St. Louis and Biloxi Bay Oyster Reef Restoration
Historically oyster reefs have played an important role in maintaining the ecological integrity of near-shore waters. They provide important habitat for fish and other aquatic species, improve water quality through filtration, supporting marsh creation by trapping sediment, and dampen waves from storms. Bays and estuaries along the Mississippi Coast once supported a thriving oyster industry, but overfishing, habitat alteration and declining water quality have reduced natural oyster reef habitats by over 90%. This project will construct up to 600 acres of sub-tidal oyster reefs in Bay St. Louis and Biloxi Bay; areas that have historically supported oyster reefs and where previous restoration efforts have been successful.
Pascagoula River Marsh Restoration
The Pascagoula River system is one of the last unimpeded major river systems in the continental United States. This watershed supplies a large portion of freshwater entering the Mississippi Sound, supporting the health and diversity of low-lying flatlands, forested wetlands, and highly productive marshlands. These marshes are threatened by a rapid expansion of non-native, invasive species, primarily caused by disturbances in river hydrology which leads to loss of native trees and marsh plants. This project aims to restore 11,150 acres of marsh habitat near the mouth of the Pascagoula River as well as invasive species control.
Grand Bay Acquisition/Restoration
The Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, on the Mississippi and Alabama border, was established to protect one of the largest expanses of undisturbed pine savanna habitats in the Gulf Coastal Plain region. In addition to birds, the marshes are extremely important to many recreational and commercial fish species, including speckled trout, red drum, and flounder. The project would further the existing refuge area and restore key coastal habitats.
Turkey Creek Ecosystem Restoration
The Turkey Creek Watershed is located near Gulfport, and includes approximately 11,000 acres of forests, wetlands, agricultural areas and urban development. Turkey Creek flows approximately 13 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with Bernard Bayou, an important estuary within Biloxi Bay. The project will restore critical hydrology and use techniques such as controlled burns to maintain the health of the wet pine savannah.
Living Shorelines Wetlands Restoration Projects, MS Gulf Coast
Loss of historic coastal marsh due to shoreline erosion continues to be a major problem across the entire Gulf Coast, and in Mississippi, estuarine marshes are considered to be imperiled. These intertidal zones provide essential habitat and nutrition for many life stages of aquatic species as well as refuge from predation, and are ultimately required for survival and recovery of viable fisheries. Three areas totaling 2.25 miles will be targeted for various restoration techniques to restore and prvomote healthy shorelines.
Investing fines and penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in Mississippi’s waters, wetlands and fisheries will improve our economy and will preserve our coastal heritage for our children and grandchildren. Unless hunters and anglers speak up, this money may well be spent on unrelated efforts that will not benefit the coast and could even harm it.
“Mississippi’s leaders should use this unique windfall to begin a new chapter for the Mississippi Coast by investing in projects that improve water quality, help buffer coastal communities from storms, rebuild oyster reefs and support our fisheries. Future generations of Mississippians will thank us for making wise decisions with this money today.” – MS Wildlife Federation
- Clarion-Ledger – Reader: Work together on coastal restoration
- Download the Mississippi Coast By the Numbers factsheet.
- You can also join the Mississippi Camo Coalition to stay informed and take action on coastal restoration issues.