Agencies working to save Ship Island from erosion

GULF OF MEXICO — Four federal agencies have begun work to save Ship Island from erosion that has become a serious threat to the island’s existence.

The Sun Herald reports sand is being added to north side of West Ship Island as a prelude to a $300-million project next year to fill-in the Camille Cut.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the project is expected to last into 2014 and culminate with filling the Camille Cut with 13 million cubic yards of sand excavated from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Camille cut through Ship Island in 1969 and separated it into East and West Ship in an area of the island that storms have historically breached. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made the Camille Cut even larger.

Dr. Susan Rees, an oceanographer and head of the Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program in charge of the project, said historically, there has been enough sand in the system to heal the breach, as the sands of the island migrate west.

“There’s not enough sand moving in the system now to heal the cut,” she said. “If we don’t artificially fill it, East Ship would begin to disappear. There’s not a lot of it left now.”

Then West Ship would be next, she said.

In the first phase of the project, under way now, 430,000 cubic yards of sand will be brought to the northern shore of West Ship from an area of the Mississippi Sound near the old Gulfport ship channel.

After the cut is filled, another 5.4 million cubic yards will be placed on the southern shore of East Ship.

The project is being funded through MsCIP, set up soon after Hurricane Katrina-ravaged the islands. U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., was instrumental in establishing the program to improve the resiliency of the Gulf Coast for future storms, Rees said.

The governor’s office and key state agencies, like the Mississippi Departments of Environmental Quality and Marine Resources also support the project.

Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey since Katrina show that Petit Bois and Horn islands, the wilderness islands in the Gulf Islands National Seashore chain, are in pretty good shape, Rees said. Cat Island is iffy and Ship is in trouble, she said.

“We have the money and the need is there,” she said. “We’ve been working on this since January 2006.”

She said that now that BP owns a large portion of Cat Island, there is an issue of how much the federal government can do to preserve it because it is privately owned.

Cat and Ship are at risk, she said, and the reason it’s important to save them is because of how much of the coast is affected.

“When they are at risk, the Mississippi Sound estuary system is at risk and also the mainland is at risk,” she said.

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