DEER ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - Volunteers spent the morning Wednesday on Deer Island, planting sea oats and other dune vegetation. Hundreds of new plants on the island will help create sand dunes.
Once the vegetation matures, it will serve as habitat for a variety of wildlife. But it will also provide a first line of defense against tropical storms and hurricanes.
"Then you grab your plant. Grab it by the roots, don't grab it by the stem or you'll squish it," Frederique Beroset of "Dune Doctors" instructed the group of volunteers.
Following a brief lesson, the master gardeners got right to work. The planting project will enhance a newly created section of west Deer Island.
"Preserve the island by hopefully accreting some sand and creating habitat for the animals that live out here. And hopefully helping the sand stay in place that's been dredged in here," said project coordinator Chris Boyd.
"This is the red morning glory," said one of the volunteers, as she pulled out another small plant.
Fond memories of Deer Island as a child are among the reasons Letha Cruthirds is happy to help preserve it.
"I grew up here on the coast. And I watched the hurricanes destroy it. So we need to save Deer Island. It's a wonderful barrier to protect Biloxi," said Cruthirds.
Newly planted sea oats will quickly take root, providing an anchor for new dunes.
"Sea oats grow roots 10 to 15 feet deep in the core of the dune. And they help make a net of root system because they all intertwine with each other. And that's with that depth they help anchor the sand and help accumulate more," said Beroset.
For the naturalists, this is more than a landscape project.
"Just being out here in the fresh air and on the beach and being part of something bigger than us. Making sure this is going to be here for children, grand children, great grand children," said Ann Marie Boudreaux of Pass Christian.
It is fitting this planting project is happening on June first, the first day of hurricane season. Because once the plants mature and the dunes stabilize, this area will serve as the first line of defense against future storms.
"As the grasses grow, they'll trap sand blown by the wind. And that will create dunes that will end up being another means of protection for the Biloxi shoreline," said Jack Kelly of Ocean Springs.
The volunteers are part of the master naturalist and master gardener programs.