Sand is gold, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find for nourishing sandy beaches, rebuilding important fish habitat, restoring barrier islands and coastal marshes.  But, sand is not the whole story. Rebuilding marshes requires finer grained materials, such as mud and clays, collectively known as “muck”.  Muck, while in great supply, is more difficult to work with than sand.

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) Habitat Conservation and Restoration Team (HCRT) members, restoration professionals from around the Gulf of Mexico, need all the restoration projects they can get to use the excess dredged muck. Muck is the primary resource needed to complete restoration projects that are essential for storm protection and robust fisheries.  The team recognized that industries are dredging waterways, marinas and ports to maintain transportation routes. Much of the dredged material, or sediment, is being placed in upland disposal areas or discarded offshore and lost from our estuary systems.  The HCRT decided to find a way to use more of these dredged materials for restoration.  They created a task in the GOMA Action Plan, commitment to work together across all five states to develop a technical framework the Gulf Regional Sediment Management Master Plan (GRSMMP).  This plan envisions sediment management on a regional scale, unencumbered by agency, state or national boundaries. The team is forging new partnerships, sharing technical expertise, and developing emerging tools to facilitate increased beneficial use of all suitable dredged material. The GRSMMP technical framework was published in the Journal of Coastal Research in 2012.

Round Island Mississippi is a perfect example of how this works.  The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is working with VT Halter Marine and the Port of Pascagoula in a public-private partnership to restore part of Round Island, an island that has almost completely eroded away over the course of the last 200 years.  VT Halter Marine is expanding, and the material they are dredging will be deposited near Round Island. The Department of Marine Resources project manager, George Ramseur, explains they will plant the restored marsh area on the interior portion of the new island, and stabilize the top of the surrounding sand dike with trees and shrubs.  No agency funds were spent on this project, and Mississippi will gain back about 70 acres of new land.

Ports around the Gulf dredge regularly to keep waterways clear of obstruction for transporting goods. Partnering with ports and industry is essential. In mid-October 2013, the Gulf Ports Association of the Americas held their annual 4-day convention in Biloxi.  Representatives from GOMA and the HCRT spoke to the convention about this innovative plan developed to ensure valuable sand and muck resources are used for restoration and protection along the Gulf Coast.  The participants at the Gulf Ports Association of the Americas meeting were very interested to hear about the new GRSMMP technical report and how the material they are digging up can be used to rebuild our coast.