Gulf Islands National Seashore prepares for possible oil - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Gulf Islands National Seashore prepares for possible oil

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) -

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) – Ocean Springs resident Craig Steed and crew cast fishing poles from the Davis Bayou Pier more frequently now than ever before.

"We wanted to go fishing before the oil spill tries to creep on up our backdoor here," said Steed. "Just trying to get it all in here while we can."

Tom and Mary Barratt, visitors from California, walk the trails nearby, hoping for a face-to-face encounter with the delicate wildlife that lives in the area.

"We need to protect all these natural environmental places because they wont come back if they get destroyed by man," said Mary Barratt.

The Barratts told WLOX some of their fellow Californians mentioned they might see oil on their trip to Mississippi.  They said, so far, they've been relieved to see only signs of preparedness.

"We haven't really seen it," said Mary Barratt.  "We've seen bits and pieces of the booms and things."

Park Ranger Alexis Brooks is part of the team deployed to help handle the crisis.  Her primary role is answering the public's questions, but she said the National Park Service is taking a strong, proactive approach to the looming oil.

"We have been deploying booms around the islands to prevent that oil from coming ashore if it does make it here," said Brooks.  "We're trying to keep a close eye on our visitors as well, if they do find anything."

Brooks said she believes the National Seashore has been lucky to have skirted the oil so far, as there is much at stake on the park's many coastlines.

"It starts really from the smallest portion of the food chain, from plankton all the way up to the larger predators on the islands," said Brooks.  "And it is our job at the National Park Service to protect those resources.  This is also a very history-rich area.  So we are intent on protecting those cultural resources for future generations."

Gulf Islands National Seashore tallies its visitor statistics at the end of each month, according to rangers. So they don't know yet whether the oil leak has affected tourism. They said the visitors they've had have been very curious.  Rangers on each site are prepared to answer any oil spill questions that may arise. 

"We are, of course, part of the unified incident command team. So we are, of course, reporting back to that command team, but our main concern is actually the National Park Service sites," said Brooks.  "The more time we have, the more prepared we are for this and the more protection we do have in place for the islands.  So right now we're just trying to do the best we can to be prepared."

Like many of the entities that could be affected by the oil spill, rangers said the tactic at the Seashore is to prepare as much as possible, and then wait and see what happens. They said at this point, the biggest challenge for them is letting people know that all aspects of the park are open to visitors.

"Everything is open, you can take the ferry out to Ship Island, or come down to Davis Bayou here and enjoy the beautiful walks and the beautiful visitors center," said Brooks.  "But definitely get out and enjoy the National Seashore."

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