Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, in conjunction with Executive Director of the state Department of Marine Resources Joe Spraggins, recently announced a slate of newly funded coastal projects that include key funding to expand Audubon Mississippi’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program. Of the 17 projects announced, Audubon was the only conservation non-profit recipient and will receive $300,000.

The highly competitive program is funded through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Securities Act (GOMESA), which allows Mississippi to receive revenue collected through federal offshore oil and gas leases. The funds can be used to support coastal conservation and restoration projects. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Mississippi Development Authority helped to review and select the projects. U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo’s endorsement of Audubon’s work was instrumental in complimenting the state agencies’ support.

The award is a big boost to Audubon’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program that works with local communities, natural resource agencies, and volunteers to monitor and to safeguard beach-nesting birds, such as Least Terns and Piping Plovers. In fact, Mississippi hosts one of the largest nesting concentrations of Least Tern populations in the world. Importantly, this new funding will be leveraged with 2010 Deepwater Horizon restoration funds that MDEQ awarded to Audubon. These earlier grants allowed Audubon to formalize the state’s first-ever stewardship program, which served as a model to establish the program in the other four Gulf States.

Audubon’s expanded effort will work to balance the needs of people and wildlife by protecting coastal birds and marine turtles, while supporting a robust local nature-tourism economy. Audubon’s long-standing partner, the Harrison County Sand Beach Authority, will play a key role.

Project highlights include:

  • Establishing the first-of-its-kind sea turtle monitoring program for coastal Mississippi
  • Expanding bird stewardship operations year-round
  • Engaging and educating beach visitors about coastal conservation
  • Identifying strategies to increase local nature-based tourism with a focus on birdwatching
  • Designing and implementing activities for the county school system
  • Developing best management practices for beach wildlife

With these additional monies, Audubon is optimistic about what the future holds for coastal Mississippi’s birds, communities, and economy.

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