Boaters prepare to offer Deer Island ferry service

Boaters prepare to offer Deer Island ferry service

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A plan to boost tourism by increasing public access to Deer Island is moving forward. On Tuesday, the DMR hosted a workshop for boat captains interested in ferrying visitors to and from the near shore island. A brand new public pier on Deer Island is ready. The next step:  Finding boat owners interested in transporting visitors.

"We're relying on Mississippi entrepreneurs, smart business men and women, to make a plan for this to work for them," said DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller, who addressed the group.

Nearly 30 such entrepreneurs attended the workshop to hear more about this economic opportunity, and learn more about Deer Island.

"And then the picture on the bottom left is a prickly pear. It's a cactus that's native to the island," said Ali Leggett with the DMR Coastal Preserves program.

The boat owners and captains learned about the island's eco system and the responsibilities they will face in providing access.

"If everyone is monitoring themselves, hopefully that will mean less of a need for enforcement," said Jennifer Buchanan, an educator with the Grand Bay NERR.

Jeff and Cathy Wilkinson are among the boaters interested in the public access project. They already operate an eco-tour boat business.

"We already do quite a few trips out to Deer Island with visitors from all over. And they come and they want to go look at birds. It's a big birding thing. And we also do some kayak trips out there," she said.

And while more visitors to the island can be a good thing, Jeff Wilkinson says caution is also required.

"When you do increase the activity in these sensitive areas, you know we've got to be careful and we've got to monitor it. You don't want to deny people access, but you also do want to make sure they don't ruin what brought 'em here," he explained.

The purpose of the project is to highlight Deer Island, while boosting coast tourism.

"The idea that we would keep them here at least one more day. So give them one more attraction to see, one of our beautiful natural resources," said DMR Director Miller.

Miller said the marketplace will determine the number of vendors and which ones succeed. Those participating will be required to have a charter boat license.

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