A $16 million dollar project to restore one of Mississippi’s barrier islands will conclude later this month. By the time it’s over, some 2 million cubic yards of sand will have been added to the east beach of Cat Island. MPB’s Evelina Burnett takes us there.
Two bulldozers push and spread sand from a dredge pipe that starts about a mile offshore and ends here on the eastern side of Cat Island. They’re helping create a sand beach that will ultimately be about 250-feet wide and more than 3 miles long. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says it will bring this little island back to its pre-1998 size and add protection for both the tiny island and the shoreline beyond.
"This is directly in front of Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis," Hosemann says. "So having a strong barrier island is critical when we have another hurricane. And we'll have one, eventually, but without this island being re-nourished, we might not have that protection."
Under Hosemann's tenure the state’s share of the island has grown to more than 700 acres, including this stretch of beach. An acquisition last year as well as this re-nourishment were paid with federal funds administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Susan Rees, with the Army Corps, says the project is part of an overall barrier island restoration program that involves both Ship and Cat Islands, which form the southwestern boundary of the Mississippi Sound estuary.
"An estuary is defined as a semi-enclosed body of water where freshwater meets the sea," Rees says. "Well, if we don't have that border to keep the sea out, then western Mississippi Sound will be more like the Gulf of Mexico than the highly productive estuary that it is."
Rees says the Army Corps will monitor the area for 10 years to see its impact.
Mississippi Department of Marine Resources director Jamie Miller says the beach will also help protect and create habitat for nesting sea turtles, shore birds and other flora and fauna.
"The island itself holds a lot of environmental treasures, but all that was in jeopardy because there was really no protection," he says. "The beach had eroded, and so storms made it much more susceptible. So this beach is going to serve as protection for all that habitat, one, and then it also creates some new habitat, bird nesting, we've had some turtles show up. So it gives us benefit in both areas."