Ship Island

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Before we began the initial beach walk, our instructor related some valuable facts about Ship Island. In 16, Camille, a level five hurricane, swept through the island breaking it in two. This occurrence split the island in exactly the right spot, making the East Island lush with trees and shrubs, and Ship Island a place for students like us to enjoy a day at the beach.

During the beach walk, the first thing one notices is the vast difference in sand color. It changes from a deep black to a typical white sandy beach. This unusual feature of Ship Island is due to the production of coal near the Appalachian Mountains, which pollutes the sand and travels all the way to Mississippi! The sand, fine in texture, is fondly called “salt and pepper” sand by our instructor. At some parts on the approximately 100 foot wide beach, the sand slopes downward into the ocean, but on others, there is a distinct break where one has to take an actual step down to get to the water.

One of the things we observed on the Gulf Coast beach was a dead sea turtle that was a Logger, which means its an aggressive sea turtle…though not so aggressive anymore since its dead. Also, many perfectly circular ghost crab holes were seen throughout the beach. These are said to have white/golden legs. We learned that the muddy areas located away from the Gulf were actually a mixture of sand and bird feces (yum). The guide picked up a thin striped hermit crab inside of an oyster drill shell. Another favorite shell of hermit crabs is a snail shell. We also found a Conch shell, but these cannot be removed from the island because they belong to an endangered species. The guide pointed out the head of a hardhead catfish, also known as a “crucifix” because of their resemblance. Nearing the end of the island, we also saw dozens of seagull footprints and of course, there were pesky sand gnats everywhere. Those were some fauna we found besides the crabs and turtles, and the flora included the marshy bushes on either side of the boardwalk.

The color of the water can best be described as a dark brown color. It is definitely somewhat turbid. Closer to shore, one can see that the water is actually a clear green, but that image is ruined as soon as your entire leg becomes hidden in water. At that point, one can’t see what is below them on the sandy floor. On the Gulf side, the bottom of the sea is relatively smooth without a lot of shells disturbing our “shuffles.” Yet, on the Mississippi Sound side, the bottom (at its deepest twelve feet) is covered with Hermit crab shells and other “delights”. As we rounded the corner to the Mississippi Sound, the once rough and choppy waves transformed into smooth crescents. The waves move westward, proving that in thousands of years, Ship Island will one day be in front of Louisiana.

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Also, during our experience on the Mississippi Sound, we used an instrument called a Yabbi pump to find the small organisms located beneath the sand. We put them in an apparatus that allowed us to sift through the sand particles. After a few tries my group and I found Yabbi shrimp, worms, and crabs the size of a fingernail! We realized that in order to receive these results, one has to travel out into the ocean, not at the shoreline. Crossing over the bridge, we involved ourselves in a completely different experiment. Using saining nets, we caught jumping silver fish and masses of jellyfish. Previously, school groups caught stingrays while performing this process. I also went searching for sharks teeth in the sand without much result.

The water chemistry data for the Gulf are as follows Dissolved 0 is 7ppm, the salinity is 0ppt and the pH is 8.-8.4. The water chemistry for the Sound are as follows Dissolved O is 5ppm, the salinity is 18.8 ppt and the pH is7.. This shows that the Mississippi Sound has freshwater.

We were asked to pick up trash to help the island remain a clean and beautiful place. I attempted to do the trash pickup but actually found more shells than trash. Sarah found a quarter though…imagine that!

Overall I felt that the trip was a success. It was definitely tiring, but I learned a lot of really cool facts such as my favorite the “salt and pepper” sand. Also not having a test on this was fabulous…give me a report any day.

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