DEER ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - It protects the mainland from storm surge, and gives wildlife priceless habitats in which to thrive.We're talking about Deer Island. Millions of dollars in restoration work has helped bring it back to its original state.
Susan Rees is the project manager with Army Corps of Engineers.
She said, "When we came out here there was open water. There was a small island that ended right where that tree is. Then for a mile long stretch there was open water."
Since 1850, half of Deer Island eroded away with time and storms. It went from 800 to just 400 acres. But a massive restoration project by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Marine Resources has changed that.
Jeff Clark with the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) said, "So we've restored almost 250 acres back to the island in the last 10 years."
And the impact on plants, people and animals is tremendous.
Clark said, "Deer Island is very close to the mainland so it gets a lot of recreational use, but it also helps protect the mainland from storms and it's just wonderful wildlife habitat."
It took a lot of planning and thought. They made lagoons so water would flow into the creeks and create tidal flow to get rich nutrients in. They used sea grass to create the edges of the lagoon. It is now the perfect environment for crabs, shrimp and birds. Among the many bird species on the island was a beautiful bald eagle perched above us looking down.
George Ramseur Jr. with the DMR said, "This has been such a dramatic improvement to the island when you see it in an aerial view. It's even more impressive."
The view from above shows the huge difference after several million cubic yards of sand was pumped in with structures buried below for support. They also added 300,000 different plants and trees species.
Susan Rees said, "To try to mimic the habitat that used to be here before the island breached, and over time it will all be turned into vegetated habitats."
North of Deer Island, the Corps and DMR also created underwater reefs to attract fish.
Rees says tens of millions of federal dollars made the Deer Island restoration possible.
"These are congressionally authorized projects that worked very closely with the Mississippi delegation, who really deserve a lot of the credit for what we're looking at today," Rees said.
The Corps and DMR have also added 600,000 cubic yards of sand to the north shore of west Ship island. Later this Fall, they'll begin a much larger restoration of Ship Island. They'll rejoin the east and west parts of the island.