Earth Day 2019 MSAQ Celebrates the Mississippi Sound

April 22, 2019
Mississippi Aquarium (MSAQ) celebrates Earth Day every day, and we can’t wait to open our doors and share our passion for wildlife conservation and education with everyone.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast has experienced catastrophic environmental adversities over the past 15 years between Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. However prior to those events, the Gulf Coast had already suffered from decades of habitat loss, depletion of biodiversity, pollution and poor water quality. Today, Mississippi has come a long way towards recovery both economically as well as environmentally, but we still have a lot of work to do. This year has proven to be tough for the wild Mississippi Gulf dolphins with over 40 dolphin deaths reported already. As a comparison, a total of 56 dolphins were reported dead in all of 2018. Sea turtles are also suffering with 23 found dead over the past two weeks. These horrible statistics bring to light the continuing challenges that face our beloved Gulf Coast as well as the critical need for more research to understand how these sensitive animals are affected by human and climate driven changes.
We are all connected on Earth, and there is no place where that is so evident than the Mississippi Sound. Our remarkable Mississippi sound is home to endangered kemp’s ridleys and loggerhead sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins and brown pelicans, serves as a shark nursery for Atlantic sharpnose, spinner and bull sharks, a nesting ground for shore birds and supports a diverse number of fish and invertebrates. The Mississippi River is one of the world’s largest, and when counting its many tributaries, the Mississippi’s watershed encompasses 32 U.S. States and two Canadian provinces. All of this water flows right into the Gulf of Mexico, so management decisions and pollution made in one place ultimately ends up in the Mississippi Sound. We are just beginning to understand the complex interactions between the River and the Gulf, how those interactions are effected by human-derived processes and ultimately how to ensure that the wildlife can not only survive but thrive. Studies on wild dolphins in Florida and Alabama have shown that some dolphin populations have a very limited home range. For example some dolphins live exclusively in estuaries and may not travel more than 5-15 miles per day. These dolphins specialize in feeding in brackish waters found in and around the mouths of rivers. If sudden changes occur to the water quality, salinity or temperature, these dolphins may not know how to leave their home for safer waters, or if they do, be able to find food. Studies of specific or “fine-scale” dolphin populations in the Mississippi Sound are few. It is believed that we may have year round resident estuary populations as well as those who inhabit the regions surrounding the barrier islands. Without knowing how these populations live their day-to-day lives, it prevents us from knowing what their optimal habitat is. Without knowing what the optimal habitat is, we are unable to provide data to those making land and water management decisions. This can lead to unexpected mortalities and possibly even the extinction of certain small populations.
On this Earth Day, the Mississippi Aquarium celebrates the Mississippi Sound and everyone working to understand, restore and preserve this unique aquatic habitat. We are proud to partner with many of the remarkable organizations dedicated to coastal conservation and look forward to leading many new research initiatives that will benefit Mississippi wildlife
How you can help now:

Volunteer for beach clean ups
Reduce single use plastics
Don't Litter
Don’t throw trash overboard when boating
Pick-up and properly dispose of all fishing line
Respect the fences and signs protecting nesting shorebirds
Assist with “Living Shoreline” initiatives
Become involved with Citizen Science projects
Support  Mississippi Aquarium!

Author: Holley Muraco, PhD

Director of Research - Mississippi Aquarium

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