BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Restoring the environment and strengthening the economy. Those were among the topics at Wednesday's inaugural State of the Coast conference in Biloxi. The conference brought together scientists and law makers, tourism and business leaders. All share a common goal: maintaining a healthy Mississippi Gulf Coast.
DMR Director Jamie Miller welcomed the 300 plus in attendance to this first State of the Coast gathering. He says it's no coincidence they chose for the theme the post-Katrina recovery mantra "Moving Forward Together."
"It is always in our darkest and most difficult times that we are resolved to work together. By moving forward together, we can accomplish generational change and implement transforming projects and policy," said Miller.
"The economics of the Coast, many times, will drive the conservation of the Coast. They go hand in hand, if you really look at it," said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who talked about his plans for a public pier and ferry service to Deer Island.
He says convincing visitors to stay just one more day would mean an extra $150 million in revenue to the State of Mississippi.
"It is worth that day. Part of what we're doing, protecting what we're talking about today, will be a critical component of them staying one more day," Hosemann explained.
State Tourism Director Malcolm White talked about the growing opportunities for nature-based tourism and taking advantage of our abundant natural resources. He warns state tourism efforts are vastly underfunded.
"The State of Mississippi literally cannot whisper while these other states are shouting all around us. We are not competitive. We cannot tell our story with our hands tied behind our back," said White.
Finally, Coast native and scientist Jerry Boos says he understands the sand beach is pretty and attracts visitors, but wouldn't it make sense to replace storm water outfall pipes with salt marshes instead?
"Couldn't these marshes help improve the water quality and prevent some of the bacteria that's entering our beaches," Boos asked.
Miller says it will take a collective effort to protect and preserve the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
He told the group, "What's at stake, is our way of life."