A Piping Plover
A Piping Plover Credit: Melissa Groo

The National Audubon Society is recommending a $1.7 billion investment in the Gulf Coast through restoration and conservation efforts, including $2.5 million worth of projects in Mississippi.

Tuesday’s report, Restoring the Gulf of Mexico for Birds and People, highlights the challenges that birds and their habitats have faced since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which resulted in a $20.8 billion global settlement. Researchers say the damage has been compounded by challenges such as loss of habitat, reduced water quality, erosion, predation, and human disturbance.

Of the settlement money, BP agreed to pay $750 million to Mississippi for economic development. Legislators decided to dedicate about 75 percent of the funds to the Gulf Coast in last year’s special session. The settlement also distributed billions in funds to agencies including the National Resource Damage Assessment, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, as well as through the RESTORE Act; of that money, Mississippi is likely to receive at least $1.3 billion for restoration, according to an Audubon spokesperson.

Audubon hopes to mobilize some of those funds for these projects, but will also seek support from different resource agencies and communities.

“Birds are a strong indicator of the overall health of our ecosystem here in Mississippi and across the Gulf,” said Sarah Pacyna, program manager for Audubon Mississippi’s Coastal Bird Stewardship program. “If we address the needs of birds in Mississippi, we will also benefit people by providing restored beaches for storm surge protection, clean water for drinking, and a healthy environment to boost tourism and recreational opportunities.”

Sarah Pacyna, program manager of Coastal Bird Stewardship Program for Audubon Mississippi

The recommended $2.5 million investment in Mississippi covers two projects:

  • A three-year, $1.8 million plan to restore habitats for Black Skimmers. The oil spill injured thousands of Black Skimmers, and impaired over a 1,000 miles of the species’ habitat on the beach.
  • A two-year, $750,000 initiative to bring together local government and law enforcement, especially in Jackson and Harrison counties, to establish protected areas for migrant and wintering shorebirds, such as Black Skimmers and Piping Plovers. The plan would call for reduced raking on beaches as well as more signage public awareness.

“The challenges are huge, but we have an enormous opportunity to save much of the Gulf Coast for both birds and people. We can’t afford to blow this.” said David Yarnold, President and CEO of National Audubon Society.

In total, the report recommends 16 state-based, 10 region-wide and four open ocean projects, which together would restore over 136,000 acres of habitat for bird and human communities.

Mississippi Audubon at 20: Sure, there’s birdwatching, but conservation is serious business

Editor’s note: The story has been updated since publishing with additional context on funding. 

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on NBC.com. In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.