JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Its main mission is research and education. But the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is also a great spot for nature-based tourism. That's why a group promoting eco-tourism hosted a field trip there Thursday.
"The vegetation, along with the waters, really serve as the basis of the importance of the estuaries as nurseries," said Dave Ruple, as he led visitors on a tour of Bayou Heron.
Tucked away in southeast Jackson County, near the Alabama state line, the Grand Bay NERR covers some 18,000 acres. Not far from the boat launch, students from Creighton University are examining the marsh grass.
"Maybe those guys are flushing the animals they're trying to sample, towards a net," said Jennifer Buchanan with the Grand Bay NERR.
The reserve features an abundance of coastal plants, flowers and wildlife native to South Mississippi. It attracts college students for field studies and tourists who enjoy Mother Nature.
"Jackson County really is blessed with some wonderful areas, wonderful natural areas. And there has been a focus on eco tourism. I think it's growing. I think it will continue to grow because people from everywhere are seeking out natural places," said Ruple.
The newly formed Coastal Nature Destinations group organized this outing and is highlighting a variety of nature tourism spots. Visitors there can view centuries old shell piles, called middens, which date back to Native Americans.
"It was where they would dispose of the oyster shells. And over time, those oyster shells would pile up. These are archaeological special sites and ecological special sites," Buchanan explained to the group aboard the tour boat.
The calcium rich soil produces unique vegetation, like coral bean flowers, which hummingbirds enjoy. Though its main mission is research, the Grand Bay NERR is also perfect for eco-tourism.
"They're looking for natural areas to learn. And typically folks that do this have an appreciation for the environment and they seek out areas like the research reserve," said Ruple.
An increasing number of visitors are finding their way there.