Volunteers with the Mississippi Master Naturalist and Master Gardener programs recently took part in a two-day planting of dune grasses on Deer Island. Volunteers were assisted by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Coastal Preserves Program, Mississippi State University, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Dune Doctors.
Re-establishment of dune plants is a practical step in ecosystems restoration.
“The opportunity to volunteer for this project appealed to me because of my interest in fishing and coastal ecosystems,” Jack Kelly, a Master Gardener from Ocean Springs.
In the “Community Grass Gardens” restoration project, volunteers planted a total of 2,300 dune plants covering more than 10,600 square feet or just under a quarter of an acre of crucial habitat on East Deer Island. They planted sea oats, panic grass, red morning glory, white morning glory, beach elder, sea purslane and sea golden rods.
“I see the preservation and restoration of our natural resources as critical, our responsibility,” said Harrison County Master Gardener Margaret McCrary of Gulfport. “Our coastal areas are a unique environment which provide habitat for rare and sometimes endangered wildlife and organisms but also buffers us from weather extremes. At the same time, healthy coastlines provide seafood for us to eat, many sporting opportunities for our pleasure and natural beauty beyond our imagination.”
“We appreciate the assistance from the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Environmental Education Network who provided the funding for this project,” said Chris Boyd, Master Naturalist coordinator with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Mississippi State University. “Community Grass Garden projects, such as this one, provide opportunities for communities to restore natural habitat while increasing their knowledge of local ecosystems.”
Deer Island’s proximity to the mainland makes it a popular recreation area for locals and tourists and provides an accessible but isolated outdoor classroom for naturalists, according to Ali Leggett, Coastal Resource Manager with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ Coastal Preserves Bureau.
“Many restoration projects are under way to help preserve the ecological functions that this island system provides,” she said. “This community-based project will provide important dune habitat for wildlife species in addition to providing erosion control and scenic beauty.”