With hundreds of millions of dollars in oil spill restoration money soon flowing to Mississippi, environmental advocates are working hard to show the economic importance of a healthy ecosystem. MPB’S Evelina Burnett was in Jackson County this week when tourism leaders got a firsthand look.
"There's another great egret over here to the left of us, over here feeding," Benny McCoy of McCoy’s River and Marsh Tours points out some of the wildlife during a boat tour on the Pascagoula River. On board are staff and board members of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau. They hear from McCoy how these waters attract visitors from around the world, who help boost the local economy too.
"It not only brings business to me, but it brings business to other areas too of the coast here," he says. "Not only the casinos, but also you've got the restaurants they want to eat at, hotels they stay at, and other places they want to go visit and see. They want to get the whole Gulf Coast picture, and that's what they do."
Jill Mastrototaro of the National Wildlife Federation helped organize the tour, which also included visits to Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge.
She notes wildlife tourism brings in $2 billion in visitor spending to Missisisppi, which is why, she says, investing restoration dollars in the environment makes so much sense.
"Let's put our restoration dollars in projects that benefit the wildlife and our fisheries, support seafood, support commercial and recreational fishermen and support the businesses that make Mississippi's coast such a wonderful place to live," she says.
Mississippi could receive as much as $1 billion dollars in restoration funding over the next several years. The money will come from civil and criminal penalties related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.