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New Plan Lays Out Future Roadmap For Gulf Islands Seashore

By Evelina Burnett | Published 22 Jul 2014 02:47pm | comments

A new general management plan for the Gulf Islands National Seashore lays out a 20-year roadmap for the future of the national park, which includes most of Mississippi’s barrier islands. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the seashore brings more than 1 million visitors to the state every year.

One of the new plan's main ideas is to use the park as an outdoor classroom. Cassity Bromley is chief of science and resource stewardship for the seashore.

"These barrier islands are really unique resources," Bromley says. "There aren't very many undeveloped islands or undeveloped stretches of beaches where there are still functioning ecosystems where we can teach kids and adults about what is happening out there on the seashore. So one of the things that this plan really emphasizes is that going into the future, we'd like to continue to do that.

Bromley says the plan also encourages the park to work with educational institutions and other agencies to teach people about the "amazing history and amazing ecosystems that this park protects." She says the plan also shifts towards an emphasis to marine systems management since about 80 percent of the park is underwater. 

In Mississippi, the plan also includes restoration of parts of Fort Massachusetts, a new group campsite on Cat Island, and possibly a permit system for camping or even day access to some islands.

"We're always looking to provide public access, but we're also always mindful about the need to protect the resources," she says. "A good example of that you'll see out there right now is all the sea bird area closures - areas that are roped off because there are nesting plovers, terns or other sea birds using the area. So we ask the public during that time of year to stay out of those areas so the sea birds can use them. So we're always looking to come up with that balance."

Bromley says any specific changes would first go through more planning and public review.

Terese Collins of the Gulf Islands Conservancy says the barrier islands need to be protected because they help support both Mississippi’s seafood and tourism economies.

"It's an economy that keeps on giving - if we take care of it," she says. "You're seeing some of the casinos having a hard time right now. We can't depend upon one industry to support us forever. But we can depend upon these islands to always give back to us, if we will take care of them."

The Park Service says seashore visitors in Mississippi spent nearly $44 million dollars in nearby communities in 2012. 

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