Mississippi GEMS

Pascagoula River Marsh Preserve

  1. Pascagoula RiverSite Information Point(s) of Contact: Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Coastal Preserves Program
  2. Geographic Information
    1. Narrative Description of the Site: This preserve consists of 11,150 acres that includes essentially all marsh associated with the mouth of the Pascagoula River. This brackish, coastal marsh has over 300 species of plants that are known to occur in these marshes, but needle rush (Juncus roemerianus) is the dominant species. As you proceed north you will encounter portions of an oligohaline marsh that is co-dominated by olneyi bulrush (Scirpus olneyi) and spike-rush (Eleocharis cellulosa). Paige Bayou is a tidal freshwater area that is comprised of a bald cypress and sawgrass (Cladium) marsh. In the northern extremity, as the tree line is approached, forested "islands" are encountered. These are slightly higher bits of land that are covered by trees such as live oak. Dr. J.R. Watson nominated that portion of the site north of the mouth of the Escatawpa River as an eligible National Natural Landmark in a study conducted in 1973. His recommendation was never followed up on by the NPS. There has been no significant degradation since 1973 with the exception of the I-10 causeway. It is not believed that this has caused irreversible damage to the marsh community that was described by Dr. Watson as a "true, accurate, essentially unspoiled example of nature" and an "excellent example of the estuarine marshes that occur along the Gulf of Mexico." The oligohaline marsh area of the lower Pascagoula River/Marsh is dominated by mid-level needle rush (Juncus roemerianus) marsh. Scattered with high saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) bands occurring adjacent to the uplands and on the high spots along with groundsel bush (Baccharis angustifolia). Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) occurs as narrow, disjunct bands along the lake and creeks. This area is also frequented by a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds. The oligohaline stretch of the West Pascagoula River contains a variety of marsh types and includes a high diversity of freshwater and brackish water species of plants. A mid-level marsh adjacent to the upland area south of the eastbound I-10 rest stop is co-dominated by olneyi bulrush (Scirpus olneyi) and spike-rush (Eleocharis cellulosa), with numerous other grassed and sedges and duck-potato (Sagittaria lancifolia). The primary marsh type outward toward the river is dominated by needle rush (Juncus roemerianus) with duck-potato (Sagittaria). Wild rice (Zizania aquatica) is also quite common throughout this area, occurring as 1-3 m wide bands along the channels and creeks. This major marsh type occurs across the 3-4 mile wide river delta at this point in the river. Big cordgrass (Spartina cynosuroides) has minimal occurrence in spots within the Juncus zone. Common reed (Phragmites australis) occurs on channel levees and eelgrass (Vallisneria americana) has been seen here in the past, occurring in the small creeks and marsh ponds. The tidal freshwater area of Poticaw Landing/Bayou is composed largely of bald cypress/black gum swamp with a narrow (1-2 m wide) fringe of marsh. The marsh area (specifically sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense)) expands toward the junction with the West Pascagoula River. Sawgrass (Cladium) is also found as an understory plant in the swamp near the bayou’s edge. A variety of freshwater species, such as arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), duck-potato (Sagittaria latifolia), and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) make up the fringing marsh. A plant that may be golden canna (Canna flaccida) grows along the swamp/marsh edge. Humans (i.e., houseboats) heavily use this immediate area. The tidal freshwater area of Paige Bayou is composed of a bald cypress swamp and sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) marsh. The swamp is variable in size, including a narrow fringe along the bayou. An expansive, sawgrass marsh is found south and southwest of this point of the bayou and apparently extends down into Bluff Creek and the Pascagoula River. Cypress is scattered across the marsh. The tidal freshwater area of John’s Bayou is made up of bald cypress/black gum swamp with a narrow (1-2 m wide) fringe of marsh composed of a variety of freshwater species. Arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), duck-potato (Sagittaria latifolia), and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) are common along with sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense). Sections of this area are nesting sites for the Mississippi Redbelly Turtle and the Gopher Tortoise. This unique location provides excellent feeding, resting, and wintering habitat for numerous types of migratory bird species, such as the Brown Pelican, White Pelican, Osprey, and cormorants. Most of the area is essentially unspoiled, however some areas to the south of the Escatawpa River are suffering from development and pollution. The marshes are threatened primarily by industrial and residential developments that involve dredging, fill, and byproduct pollution. The Escatawpa River is believed to be a major source of industrial pollution. Future diversions of water from the Pascagoula River and its tributaries could result in an increase of saltwater intrusion and expansion of the marsh area northward into the area now forested. Diversion could also result in increase relative pollution as dilution is decreased.
    2. Date When Information Last Updated: March, 1998
    3. Location: Jackson County (Pascagoula & Gautier)
    4. Area of Influence: Coastal plain
  3. Ecological/Cultural Characteristics
    1. Habitat type: The following ecological communities are expected or known to occur: estuarine subtidal, 1) riverine estuary (sand) 2) riverine estuary (muddy sand) 3) tape grass beds 4) large tidal creek; estuarine intertidal, 1) mesohaline marsh 2) oligohaline marsh 3) tidal freshwater marsh; and other, 1) cypress swamp 2) black gum swamp 3) riverine sand bar.
    2. Rare/Endangered Species:
      1. Elanoides forficatus Coastal Shiner
      2. Haliaeetus leucocephalus Bald Eagle
      3. Circus cyaneus Northern Harrier
      4. Falco peregrinus Peregrine Falcon
      5. Sterna nilotica Gull-Billed Tern
      6. Acipenser oxyrhynchus Gulf Sturgeon
      7. Malaclemys terrapin Diamondback Terrapin
      8. Pseudemys sp. 1 Mississippi Redbelly Turtle
      9. Gopherus polyphemus Gopher Tortoise
      10. Succinea luteola Spanish Ambersnail
      11. Polygyra septemvolva Florida Flatcoil
      12. Eustoma exaltatum Tall Prairie-Gentain
      13. Peltandra sagittifolia White Arum
      14. Hymenocallis liriosome Texas Spider-Lily
    3. Breeding/Nursery Area: Sections of this area are nesting sites for the Mississippi Redbelly Turtle and the Gopher Tortoise.
    4. Migratory Species: This unique location provides excellent feeding, resting, and wintering habitat for numerous types of migratory bird species, such as the Brown Pelican, White Pelican, Osprey, and cormorants.
    5. Ecosystem Function: Tidal marsh serves as a nursery for species important to seafood industry, filters impurities from rivers before they discharge into the Gulf, and functions as a hurricane buffer.
  4. Current and Potential Use of the SitePotential Use of the Site
    1. Recreational Use: Boaters and anglers use the area on occasional and seasonal basis for waterfowl hunting (sparingly) and fishing.
  5. Management Status
    1. Land Ownership: Lands within this Coastal Preserve are either privately, locally, state or federally owned. Much of the property is considered tidal wetlands and is already owned by the state.
    2. Existing Designations: Mississippi Coastal Preserve
    3. Management Status: Managed by the Department of Marine Resources Coastal Preserves Program.
    4. Existing Monitoring Activities: Monitored by the Department of Marine Resources Coastal Preserves Program.
    5. Acquisition Potential: Active
    6. Management Needs: The State will manage the area as a coastal preserve. The DMR will have direct responsibility. Much of the property considered tidal wetlands, already owned by the State.
  6. Site Viability
    1. Threats to Ecological Integrity: Most of the area is essentially unspoiled. Areas to the south of the Escatawpa River are suffering from development and pollution. The marshes are threatened primarily by industrial and residential developments that involve dredging, fill, and byproduct pollution. The Escatawpa River is believed to be a major source of industrial pollution. Future diversions of water from the Pascagoula River and its tributaries could result in an increase of saltwater intrusion and expansion of the marsh area northward into the area now forested. Diversion could also result in increase relative pollution as dilution is decreased.
  7. Comments and/or Additional Information on the Pascagoula River Marsh Preserve: email the Coastal Preserves Manager.