After a week of excursions throughout the Deep South, we spent our Saturday on Ship Island, at a popular and historical destination off the coast of Biloxi, Mississippi. Discovered by the French in 1699, Ship Island was considered the “Plymouth Rock” of the Gulf Coast. Fort Massachusetts, which played a role in the civil war, is located on the island and housed one of the nation’s first quarantine stations beginning in the 1870s. The quarantine station operated at the height of the yellow fever epidemic and monitored vessels, cargo, and passengers as a first line of defense into the Port of New Orleans. Today, the island does not look like it previously did due to damage left from the impacts of Hurricane Camille in 1969.
After an hour and a half on the boat known as “Captain Pete”, we arrived on West Ship Island, home of Fort Massachusetts. Our initial purpose was to search for plastics and microplastics along the beach; however, the park ranger informed us shortly after arriving that two other academic groups had beat us to it leaving no plastic in sight! We did notice a few measures the National Park Service is taking to protect the environment on the island including handing trash bags to visitors upon arrival and having receptacles for people to deposit trash as they leave the beach. The island is also known as a Least Tern nesting area. A large majority of the islands sandy shores are roped off for these seabirds so that they can nest in peace. Park Rangers were clear that heavy fines will be leveed to anyone that ventures into those areas.
Even though we weren’t able to recover plastics from the seashore while on the island, we were able to address an equally important public health issue…mental health and self-care. As students, we know how it feels to be overwhelmed by stress and visiting places like Ship Island is a great way to de-stress and just have fun. We saw families and friends of all ages spending quality time together and building new memories on this historic island.
So remember matey’s, always reduce, reuse, and recycle your plastics and even pirates need a day off.