Deer Island Remains A Favorite Getaway

Deer Island has long been a favorite getaway. Part of its popularity is the fact it's so close to the mainland and easy to reach.

But Deer Island is shrinking. And the State of Mississippi is taking steps to slow that process.

Longtime Biloxi residents will tell you Deer Island looks dramatically different than it did when they were enjoying the island as children. Erosion is washing away more than two acres of the island each year.

But there are projects in the works to help balance that loss and preserve Deer Island for future generations.

Deer Island is more than just a pretty place. For centuries, the nearby island has truly been a barrier, protecting Biloxi from the brunt of hurricanes and tropical storms.

But that protection takes a toll on the island itself. Today's Deer Island is far different from the place where Native Americans once roamed.

Jeff Clark is coastal preserves manager for the Department of Marine Resources.

"Islands are very dynamic systems. They're not static. They don't stay the same. They're constantly changing. The storms and the waves and the winds are always shifting and moving things around. And so, you do see, on the south side, dramatic examples of erosion where you can see the ground level used to be four or five feet higher than it is now. And that's just part of the natural process that goes on out here," Clark explained.

The Department of Marine Resources is taking steps to counter the impact of erosion. A restoration project on the east end of Deer Island is the first step.

"This is about a 50 acre marsh restoration site on Deer Island. This part of the island has eroded in the past historically. So, what we try to do is come in and rebuild this part of the marsh," he said.

The environmental initiative is actually a giant recycling project. The material used to help create the new marsh was the spoils from digging out the Biloxi navigation channel.

"Rebuild marsh that's eroded. And replant the vegetation and so you get all those important ecological functions that marshes provide. The nurseries for fishes, purifying water, storm buffer. All those things," Clark said.

The restoration area will be planted in the fall. Storms are always a threat, but if the project takes hold it should closely resemble the natural marsh that's so much a part of the island's east end.

"It's part of the eco system. And on Deer Island you notice on the west end it's mostly forested. On the east end it's mostly marsh. And these marshes, they come and go with storms that break them up or storms that deposit material on them," he said.

Keeping the island in its natural state will help ensure that future generations can enjoy the near shore getaway.

A big part of the lure of the island is its proximity to the mainland. Highway 90 is just a half mile away. But if you take the short hike across the island, then walk along the south beach, it feels like the busy world is much further away.

"It's a great place for recreation. People who want to come out and canoe or kayak around the island, fish around the island, comb the beaches, watch birds. It's a great place for that. Easy to get to," Clark said.

And the state's stewardship of the island is aimed at keeping it something special.

"It's a tremendous treasure for the coast. It's just a beautiful island. Like I said, it's close to the mainland, easy to get to. And so it's a really unique island for us. We don't have anything else like this down here," Clark explained.