Mississippi Sound is fed by several rivers including the Pascagoula, the largest undammed river in the lower 48 states. The coast loses 200 acres of wetlands every year to erosion – with some parts of Mississippi Sound creeping inland as much as 30 feet a year. Mississippi’s barrier islands are experiencing a particularly accelerated rate of land loss; for example, Ship Island has lost nearly two thirds of its area since the mid-1800s. The loss of these protective barrier islands and wetlands jeopardize the intricate balance of salt and fresh water within the estuary and make communities more vulnerable to coastal flooding and sea level rise.
Poor water quality is also an issue. Urbanization, nutrient pollution from agriculture, failing septic and sewer systems, altered waterways, and stormwater runoff have degraded water quality over the last 20 years. Seventeen streams that feed the estuary are listed as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act. As a result, the Mississippi Beach Monitoring Task Force issues advisories or closures due to high bacterial counts an average of 28 days a year.
Key habitats that support the coast’s diverse wildlife and marine life have also suffered. Oyster reefs have declined by approximately 90 percent while seagrass beds have declined by 80 percent.
As a major ecological lynchpin to many other coastal waters – Mobile Bay in Alabama, Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne and the Chandeleur Sound in Louisiana, and Mississippi’s Bay St. Louis and Back Bay of Biloxi – restoring the health of Mississippi Sound will bring tremendous benefits to the Gulf region.