State of the Beach/State Reports/MS/Beach Ecology
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To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.
Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.
In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include
- quality of habitat,
- status of ‘indicator’ species,
- maintenance of species richness, and
- management practices.
It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.
The Mississippi Coastal Program (MSCP) is administered by several different agencies. The Office of Coastal Ecology in the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) serves as the lead agency for this program. MSCP has three goals related to coastal habitat protection:
- “to favor the preservation of the coastal wetlands and ecosystems, except where a specific alteration of a specific coastal wetlands would serve a higher public interest in compliance with the public purposes of the public trust in which the coastal wetlands are held;”
- “to protect, propagate, and conserve the state’s seafood and aquatic life in connection with the revitalization of the seafood industry of the State of Mississippi;” and
- “to conserve the air and waters of the state, and to protect, maintain, and improve the quality thereof for public use, for the propogation of wildlife, fish and aquatic life, and for domestic, agricultural, industrial, recreational, and other legitimate beneficial uses.”
Mississippi's 2006-2010 Section 309 Assessment and Strategy notes:
- "Improved public access has the potential to increase disturbance to wildlife, particularly threatened or endangered species. Access projects should be closely monitored to ensure that long-term impacts, especially loss or modification of habitat are mitigated. Habitat conservation and restoration and other environmental considerations should be taken into account and any potentially negative impacts should be mitigated."
The Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) was established by Section 384 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which was signed into law by President Bush on August 8, 2005. CIAP authorizes funds to be distributed to outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas producing states to mitigate the impacts of OCS activities. Mississippi is one of six states eligible to receive CIAP funds, and Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties are eligible coastal political subdivisions within Mississippi. Governor Haley Barbour assigned the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources as the designated state agency to oversee the program for Mississippi.
Expenditures of CIAP funds shall be approved for one or more of the following authorized uses:
- Projects or activities for the conservation, protection, or restoration of coastal areas, including wetlands;
- Mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife, or natural resources;
- Planning assistance and the administration cost of complying with CIAP;
- Implementation of a federally-approved marine, coastal, or comprehensive conservation management plan;
- Mitigation of the impact of OCS activities through funding of onshore infrastructure and public service needs
Not more than 23% of a State or Coastal Political Subdivision's CIAP allocation for any one fiscal year shall be used for authorized use #3 or #5.
In April 2011 the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill announced that BP had agreed to provide $1 billion toward early restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico to address impacts to natural resources caused by the spill. The funds will be used to support projects such as the rebuilding of coastal marshes, replenishment of damaged beaches, conservation of sensitive ocean and coastal habitat, and restoration of barrier islands and wetlands that provide natural storms protection. Each Gulf state - Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas - will select and implement $100 million in projects; the Federal Resource Trustees, NOAA and Department of the Interior (DOI), will each select and implement $100 million in projects; and the remaining $300 million will be used for projects selected by NOAA and DOI from proposals submitted by the State Trustees. Additional information, including a link to the full agreement, is available online here.
Other Federal Programs
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate portions of island and mainland coastal beaches in six states along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico as critical habitat for the Northwest Atlantic (NWA) population of loggerhead sea turtles. In total, 90 nesting sites in coastal counties located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi were identified for possible designation as critical habitat for the NWA population of loggerhead sea turtles. These sites incorporate about 740 shoreline miles: about 48 percent of an estimated 1,531 miles of coastal beach shoreline, and consist of nesting sites with or immediately adjacent to locations with the highest nesting densities (approximately 84 percent of the documented nesting) within these six states.
In July 2014 NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the proposed rule was final, designating critical habitat for the turtle out of some 700 miles of beaches and nearly 300,000 miles of ocean along the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico. Details and maps.
In August 2012 it was reported that sea turtles were nesting on Mississippi mainland beaches for the first time in 20 years. Scientists are keeping a close eye on the nests to see if hatchlings emerge. Although this is a hopeful sign that the species may be recovering, it's also possible they came to the mainland because their usual nesting spots were disturbed.
The Gulf of Mexico Alliance is a partnership of the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, with the goal of significantly increasing regional collaboration to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The five U.S. Gulf States have identified six priority issues that are regionally significant and can be effectively addressed through increased collaboration at local, state, and federal levels:
- Water Quality;
- Habitat Conservation and Restoration;
- Ecosystem Integration and Assessment;
- Nutrients & Nutrient Impacts;
- Coastal Community Resilience; and
- Environmental Education
Other Coastal Ecosystems
During NOAA's latest evaluation period, the MSCP acquired and preserved almost 1,000 additional acres
within the Coastal Preserves System, actively restored coastal wetlands and ecosystems, and through the implementation of the Coastal Wetlands Protection Act, protected coastal wetlands, important nursery grounds for fish and aquatic life.
The MSCP administers the Coastal Wetlands Protection Act and evaluates permit applications for proposed impacts to coastal wetlands, reviews comments from state, federal, and local agencies and from the general public, and conducts on-site inspections of proposed projects. Click here for the final evaluation findings for the Mississippi Coastal Program.
The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Coastal Preserves Program was developed in 1992 by authority of the Wetlands Protection Act. The Coastal Preserves Program's objective is to acquire, protect, and manage sensitive coastal wetland habitats along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, therefore ensuring the ecological health of Mississippi's coastal wetland ecosystems. The State currently has title to approximately 30,000 acres of the designated 72,000 acres of crucial coastal wetland habitat within Mississippi's coastal preserve sites. (The website lists 21).
The Coastal Preserves Program is dedicated to effectively preserve, conserve, restore, and manage Mississippi's coastal ecosystems to perpetuate their natural characteristics, features, ecological integrity, social, economic, and aesthetic values for future benefit. The long-term vision of this program is the management of Mississippi's Coastal Preserves sites to provide long-term benefits to the natural resources and economic value of the region. Management goals will enhance and perpetuate approximately 83,000 acres of important coastal wetland resources, provide compatible human recreational use, provide research and data applicable to coastal resource management both on-site and off-site, and protect specific habitat necessary for native, threatened, or endangered species. State trust lands within the Coastal Preserve sites will be effectively managed to perpetuate their natural characteristics, features, ecological integrity, social, economic, and aesthetic values so that future generations may enjoy the benefits of viable wetland ecosystems.
Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Coastal Preserves Program website provides links to state and federal laws relating to coastal wetlands.
The Coastal Preserves Program website provides geographic and ecological (habitat type, rare/endangered species, uniqueness of natural community) information for each of the preserves, as well as a searchable database for coastal plant life.
Perhaps the most well-known coastal preserve is Grand Bay (Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve), which is contained in both Mississippi and Alabama. The boundary line for this (approximately) 26,900-acre preserve is drawn open ended going across the state line. The southern boundary follows the outermost extent of the salt and brackish marsh communities. The northern and western boundaries follow the Escatawpa River and portions of the abandoned course of the Escatawpa River. This preserve is one of the largest expanses of Gulf Coastal Savanna remaining in relatively undisturbed condition.
NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.
Site Manager: Jeff Clark
Coordinator: Rhonda Price
Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
1141 Bayview Avenue
Biloxi, MS 39530
Telephone: (228) 374-5000 | Toll free: (800) 374-3449 | FAX: (228) 374-5005
Grand Bay NERR Contacts
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