-story and photos by Ellis Anderson
On Friday, October 4, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality issued a long-awaited statement: It's O.K. to splash, wade and swim again at all Mississippi beaches.
According to the press release, water contact warnings were lifted for all 21 sand beach segments, as well as the four nonstandard segments that were issued on August 6. Water contact warnings were also lifted for Pass Christian Harbor, Long Beach Harbor and Bay St. Louis Harbor.
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"According to the National Park Service, there has been no observed evidence of the algae bloom impacting the barrier islands of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. All beaches in the park are currently open. In addition, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resource’s sampling indicates that recreational and commercial fishing off-shore in Mississippi waters remains unaffected by the algal bloom and is safe for consumption."
We couldn’t have received better news to welcome this years cruisers," said Moon. "Let’s replace those red flags with “welcome to our beaches!"
Also the beaches along Mississippi's coast have technically remained open to sun-bathing, walking and other activities, water-contact warnings issued on June 23, have prevented people and pets from wading or swimming in the waters.
Seasonal HABs have been common in other parts of the country for years, especially the Lake Erie area, but this is the first time they've shut down Mississippi beaches.
To ease the threat of flooding along the lower Mississippi River earlier in the year, Louisiana's Bonne Carre spillway was opened, allowing that nutrient-rich “fresh” water to pour into Lake Ponchartrain and directly out into the Mississippi Sound.
The river water changed the natural salinity of the lake and the Sound, providing a fertile environment for the cyanobacteria to grow. For more in-depth information read FAQs About Mississippi Sound Algal Bloom, The Shoofly Magazine published on July 12.
However, some experts are predicting that HABs could become a regular occurrence if massive Mississippi River diversion projects continue in Louisiana. The projects, pitched to help re-silt the river's eroding delta, divert Mississippi River water directly into the Mississippi Sound - much like the opening of the Bonne Carré spillway did this year.
Wendy McDonald, candidate for Mississippi House of Representatives, District 122, has been sounding the alarm on the diversion project. She has built her campaign platform around the issue and says that when elected, her "number one priority" will be to stop the diversion project.
"We celebrate the reopening of the beaches," said McDonald. "But we're going to have to work to keep them that way. It's going to take all of us pulling together. "
Another group that believes the diversion project will be disastrous for the Mississippi Gulf Coast is Gulf Coast Resource Coalition. The group is making a presentation before the Hancock County Board of Supervisors at their October 7 meeting and again at the Bay St. Louis City Council meeting on October 8, starting at 5:30pm.