The scene off the Pass Christian coast looked like a water color painting. Boats circled an oyster reef. Decks hands filled oyster sacks.
The waters rippling toward the shoreline painted a much darker picture. For some unknown reason, a section of the Mississippi Sound between Hiern and Henderson Avenues had dangerously high levels of bacteria in it. It became the eighth beach closing this year.
"A lot of the ones we're getting aren't obvious," said sand beach director Bobby Weaver. "There isn't a known leak."
Weaver said that was the case in the Pass Christian closing. The water was polluted, but nobody knew why. Pass Christian didn't have any sewer problems. The sand beach director said one possibility was that the pollution was coming from the water.
"We've had these strong winds out of the south for 10 days, no rainfall, but we're having elevated readings," said Weaver. "So is it something south of here that's being churned up and being pushed into the shoreline contributing to the elevated readings? We just don't know."
To help answer that question, the sand beach department has started a three year study that's designed to determine the source of the water pollution. Because the beach near Pratt Avenue in Gulfport is often closed, it's being used as the main testing station.
According to Weaver, "Our goal is that we can put our finger on why we're getting an elevated fecal count at this watershed."
Until that happens, constant water screenings by Gulf Coast Research Lab technicians will alert scientists and swimmers to the potential pollution problems at Harrison County's beaches.
At the moment, four different sections of the 26 mile beach are closed. The one in Pass Christian and the one at Pratt Avenue in Gulfport, plus beaches at Cowan Road and Debuys Road.