SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Three restoration projects on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be getting a big financial boost. Monday, Governor Phil Bryant announced the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded $28 million to the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
"This money means Mississippi is going to be able to restore valuable lost marsh habitat, enhance and protect the habitat of our wildlife throughout the coast, and strengthen our fishing industry," Governor Phil Bryant said.
"These three new projects will help continue to build our coastal economy, while improving our coastal way of life, as we address vital issues such as invasive species, shoreline erosion, and overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico."
The Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund was created 18 months ago as part of the settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice, BP, and Transocean to resolve certain criminal charges against both companies in relation to the spill. Under the agreement, a total of $356 million will be paid into the Gulf Fund over a five year period for conservation projects in the state of Mississippi.
"For those Mississippians who enjoy fishing for red snapper, you will be glad to know that today's award means we are going to spend more than $4 million to bolster our fishing industry through the expansion of a Reef Fish Assessment Program. This two year project will gather vital fishery data on abundance, distribution and life-history characteristics of red snapper and other reef fish occurring at the more than 16,000 acres of permitted offshore artificial reef sites," said Bryant.
More than $21 million of the money will be used for vital marsh creation and restoration in three priority bay systems along the Gulf Coast including St. Louis Bay, Back Bay of Biloxi, and the Pascagoula/Escatawpa system. Over many decades, these priority bays have experienced significant impacts due to shoreline erosion, storm damage, and alterations to sediment transport – contributing to the loss of thousands of acres of tidal marsh habitat.
"By restoring these vital marsh areas we will create habitat that is vital to our coastal and marine resources, and is essential to our Mississippi economy. The project will also reduce erosion along our crucial bay shorelines while providing protection for coastal communities from storm surge and the rising sea level. At the end of the day, this project will help fulfill one of our most important goals for restoring our coast – to improve water quality -- as we improve water quality on the Gulf Coast we ultimately improve our coastal economy and our way of life," Bryant added.
The third project, totaling more than $2.6 million, will continue enhancement of habitat value of state lands in coastal Mississippi through improved management of invasive species. This project is an expansion of the 2013 Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund awarded to address invasive species management on land within Mississippi's Coastal Preserves Program.
Invasive species management work will take place in Buccaneer and Shepard State Parks as well as in the Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area. An invasive species assessment will take place in the Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area.
Work to control persistent invasive species will include prescribed burning, mechanical and chemical control of invasive vegetation, and feral hog control. This project will focus on improving significant coastal marsh and transitional upland habitat through the control and eradication of non-native and invasive plant species and the improved tidal connectivity of these habitats to the Mississippi Sound.
"The projects announced today signify another crucial step in Mississippi's commitment to restore the Gulf Coast and remedy the harm to our natural resources that were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill," said Gary Rikard, MDEQ Executive Director.