The Mississippi Gulf Coast is filled with unique ecosystems provided by its estuaries. Estuaries are usually found where rivers meet the sea, creating a body of brackish water, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water.
Often called nurseries of the sea, estuaries provide vital nesting and feeding habitats for many aquatic plants and animals. Estuaries also help to maintain healthy ocean environments. They filter out sediments and pollutants from rivers and streams before they flow into the oceans, providing cleaner waters for marine life. Birds, fish, amphibians, insects, and other wildlife depend on estuaries to live, feed, nest, and reproduce.
With how many species depend on estuarine environments, places like the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the people who work there are so important, such as Dr. Ayesha Gray.
Gray is the director of Grand Bay NERR who studies aquatic ecosystem functions and the effectiveness of habitat restoration projects. She develops and conducts ecological research with her colleagues to better understand how fisheries are supported by wetlands.
“We aim to understand how this special estuary works and what it does, so we can know what actions are best in managing it,” Gray said.
However, Gray doesn’t just focus on working with her team, but also educating the community on the importance of estuaries by developing the reserve’s outreach programs.
“I think it is important for people to understand what ecosystems do, because they do such important things for us – create food, clean our water and air, absorb storm surge, etc.,” Gray explained. “Estuaries are important nurseries for fish and shellfish, where commercially caught fish often grow up before moving offshore.”
However, Gray’s focus isn’t just on education, but also on allowing people to enjoy the estuaries.
“I also think estuaries are beautiful and special places than enrich the human soul,” she said. “We often conduct kayak tours and encourage our visitors to see the marshes from the water. Kayaking is especially nice way to see the marshes because it is a quiet way to travel and you can see all the birds and fish and other critters as you go along.”
In short, Gray just wants to make sure the Jackson County community understands the beauty and importance of the many local estuaries the way she does.
“Estuaries are vital to the coastal way of life, and I find the more people know about them, the more people love them and want to protect them.”
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