Sensitive marshes a big concern at Grand Bay Reserve - - The News for South Mississippi

Sensitive marshes a big concern at Grand Bay Reserve

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

MOSS POINT,MS (WLOX) -  Oil continues to threaten thousands of acres of marshes in South Mississippi.

And while oil patties are fairly easy to scoop off a sand beach, it's next to impossible to clean-up oil when it hits the marsh grasses.

WLOX News visited Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

This wildlife sanctuary in East Jackson County features pristine waterways and thousands of acres of coastal marsh.

The first sign of oil in the marshes was spotted one month ago and the oil intrusion is increasing.  

"There's probably about 20,000 acres of marsh in the area that borders directly on the Mississippi Sound," reserve manager David Ruple explained, as he pointed to a map of the area.

Grand Bay Reserve includes some of the largest protected marshlands in South Mississippi.

Oil threatens to not only pollute the marsh grasses, but to disrupt the sensitive chain of life that occurs within them.

"The marshes really are the nursery areas. Basically the foundation to a lot of juvenile fishes and the crabs. That's where the growth takes place. And that's where the nutrients come that help fuel the growth of those species," Ruple explained.

Do you enjoy eating shrimp?  These marshes are where young shrimp live and eat and grow.

"Living in these marshes and basically eating the nutrients in part, which is the decaying plant material that's found in the marshes. That's one of the reasons the grass is so important," says Ruple.

The dominant  marsh grass in South Mississippi is "black needlerush".

"It's very hardy. It's the dominant plant here, basically because of the tides and the elevation of our marshes. It pre dominate here, really unlike anyplace else in the country," said Ruple.

Scientists and workers at the Grand Bay Reserve are surveying the marshes and waterways and shorelines every day, looking for any oil intrusion.[

The first evidence of oil was spotted on June 12th.

As oil threatens more and more of these critical marshes, the challenge becomes how to clean it up.  Unlike the sand beaches, you can't just go in with a shovel or rake and scoop up the oily mess.

"It's difficult and there's, you know, attempts could be made to wipe the grass. But there's a lot of grass out there," said Ruple, "The other attempt is to sort of leave it out there, allow it to weather the best it can. Try to avoid pushing it down into the soil where the microbes and weathering of the sun will be less effective."

More than 15 miles of oil boom is providing some level of protection to the marshes of Grand Bay.

The latest surveys show the oil pollution is worsening within the reserve, with oil recently spotted inside Bayou Heron.

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