HARRISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - Large stretches of beach have been closed by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality because of that harmful algae bloom. All beaches in Hancock County and in Long Beach and Pass Christian are closed. (See the latest closure map here: https://bit.ly/2xgYCQs)
The question now is MDEQ doing enough to let people know? WLOX counted 34 parking areas for beach goers in Pass Christian and Long Beach. Only 10 of those had any warning signs posted. One sign said it was safe to swim.
Beach goers we spoke to were not happy to learn they were swimming in potentially dangerous water. Ann Nickel of Frisco, Texas, brought her family to the Mississippi Gulf Coast because she had heard good things about the area. She said the warnings were inadequate.
“I think especially for people who aren’t local,” she said, “people who are here on vacation, if there could be like a flag or a sign or some kind of warning letting us know that the beach should be closed because there was nothing here so we came on out."
“There should be signs telling us that the beaches are closed because of the algae and stuff like that,” said Lena Behringer, Long Beach resident who was on the beach with her daughter and grandchildren from Oklahoma. “Actually I’m endangering my family here. Without notices or anything, how am I supposed to know this?”
Shortly after this interview, Long Beach Harbormaster Bill Angley showed up with signs he printed out from the MDEQ website. Angley had requested the harbor be tested for the algae and when it was positive, he took it onto himself to post signs around the harbor.
Harrison County Sand Beach director Chuck Loftis said MDEQ has only given him 12 signs for the county’s 26-mile stretch of beach. He said Jackson and Hancock Counties have none.
MDEQ said they will evaluate sign usage going forward, but in the interim they recommend people rely on social media, email, and texting alerts to monitor beach closings. More information about MDEQ’s Mississippi Beach Monitoring Program, including the location of beach sampling stations and testing results, is available at: http://opcgis.deq.state.ms.us/StoryMapBeaches/index.php