What looks like a regular wooded area off Highway 67 is actually a pond, and the only Mississippi breeding ground of the rare gopher frog.
"It dries up during part of the year and this is part of the frog's breeding strategy to avoid predators," says Glen Johnson.
Johnson is a senior lab technician at the U.S. Forest Service's Southern Institute of Forest Genetics in Harrison County. Studying the gopher frog is a personal hobby. Johnson found the first two in 1988. Since then, he's watched the population shrink to about a hundred.
"They breed in ponds that are found generally on high ground where we build roads, where we build houses and farms and pastures. So largely through human activity, the numbers have been greatly reduced."
Such development is expected to take place all around the area with the construction of Traditions. So, the developers of the retirement community are negotiating to sell 80 acres to buffer the habitat.
"The buffer zone is just to prevent any activities on Traditions from interfering with this habitat here, which is critical. The Traditions property begins just a hundred yards or so away and that's awful close," Johnson said.
Johnson says two diseases have invaded the pond, posing yet another danger to the amphibian. So the search is on for other ponds in the six coastal counties where the frog can safely reproduce, before it becomes extinct.
A spokesperson at the Forest Service in Jackson says Traditions has hired an appraiser to determine the fair value of the 80 acres. The Mississippi Forestry Commission and the Forest Service must okay the deal. The land sale is expected to be completed by early summer.