Plants Help Protect Round Island Lighthouse

Volunteers planted rows of sea oats and other native plants on Round Island Friday morning.

It's the next step in a long term process of restoring the island's lighthouse.

Those plants will help control erosion near the Round Island lighthouse. The landmark is most susceptible to the forces of nature. Erosion had already undermined the lighthouse foundation... when Hurricane Georges toppled the tower.

Before rebuilding the lighthouse, the focus is on strengthening its foundation.

"This is the next step in a long progression to save the lighthouse," explained project engineer, Steve Oivanki.

That step involves a planting project. Sea oats and other coastal plants will provide a natural barrier around the lighthouse.

"Adding plant materials is probably the best way to ensure that coastal erosion is controllable," said a plant expert as he instructed a group of volunteers.

The idea is to help protect this eleven acres of new sand that encircles the lighthouse.

"Once you put this much sand down, the wind and water starts to take its effect and you've got to vegetate it, build dunes and ground cover so the wind doesn't blow it away and the waves don't wash it away the next hurricane," said Oivanki.

Teams of volunteers dig the holes and prepare the plants. It's a simple enough process that involves filling the holes with slow release fertilizer, then placing the plants in a row.  They will eventually help form a dune.

Betty Bensey says it's a labor of love.

"You know how we've had that feeling, that enchanted feeling for the lighthouse for a number of years. And this is just a continuation of that devotion," she said.

Pieces of the toppled lighthouse are being kept at a storage yard in Pascagoula. The actual reconstruction of the lighthouse will begin sometime next year. That portion of the project will cost about a half million dollars. They'll use as many of the original bricks as possible.

Bruce Parker is with the lighthouse preservation group.

"This lighthouse was an important part of that maritime commerce of the past. And it's a marker that our forefathers put here on the coast. And I think it's very important to us that we do maintain it and keep it for future generations," said Parker.

Along with restoring the lighthouse, long term plans call for building a new pier on the west side of Round Island to make it more accesible to visitors.