The 2005 hurricane season was devastating for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina caused significant degradation of the barrier islands that compose the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GUIS). Because of the ability of coastal barrier islands to help mitigate hurricane damage to the mainland, restoring these habitats prior to the onset of future storms will help protect the islands themselves and the surrounding habitats. During Hurricane Katrina, coastal barrier islands reduced storm surge by approximately 10 percent and moderated wave heights (Wamsley and others, 2009). Islands protected the mainland by preventing ocean waves from maintaining their size as they approached the mainland. In addition to storm protection, it is advantageous to restore these islands to preserve the cultural heritage present there (for example, Fort Massachusetts) and because of the influence that these islands have on marine ecology. For example, these islands help maintain a salinity regime favorable to oysters in the Mississippi Sound and provide critical habitats for many migratory birds and endangered species such as sea turtles (Chelonia mydas, Caretta caretta, and Dermochelys coriacea), Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi), and piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2009a). As land manager for the GUIS, the National Park Service (NPS) has been working with the State of Mississippi and the Mobile District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide a set of recommendations to the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program (MsCIP) that will guide restoration planning. The final set of recommendations includes directly renourishing both West Ship Island (to protect Fort Massachusetts) and East Ship Island (to restore the French Warehouse archaeological site); filling Camille Cut to recreate a continuous Ship Island; and restoring natural regional sediment transport processes by placing sand in the littoral zone just east of Petit Bois Island. Prevailing sediment transport processes will provide natural renourishment of the westward islands in the barrier system (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2009b). One difficulty in developing the final recommendations is that few data are available to incorporate into restoration plans related to bathymetry, sediment type, and biota. For example, the most recent bathymetry available dates to when East and West Ship Islands were a single continuous island (1917). As a result, the MsCIP program has encouraged post-hurricane bathymetric data collection for future reference. Furthermore, managing a complex environment such as this barrier island system for habitat conservation and best resource usage requires significant knowledge about those habitats and resources. To effectively address these issues, a complete and comprehensive understanding of the type, geographic extent, and condition of marine resources included within the GUIS is required. However, the data related to the GUIS marine resources are limited either spatially or temporally. Specifically, there is limited knowledge and information about the distribution of benthic habitats and the characteristics of the offshore region of the GUIS, even though these are the habitats that will be most affected by habitat restoration. The goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive map of the benthic marine habitats within the GUIS to give park managers the ability to develop strategies for coastal and ocean-resource management and to aid decisionmakers in evaluating conservation priorities.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Benthic substrate classification map: Gulf Islands National Seashore