State of the Beach/State Reports/MS/Beach Access

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Mississippi Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access65
Water Quality83
Beach Erosion9-
Erosion Response-3
Beach Fill2-
Shoreline Structures2 5
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas1NA
Website4-



Policies

From Accessing the Mississippi Coast:

In Mississippi, coastal property owners own land out to the mean high tide line. The intertidal land is owned by the state in trust for the public under the public trust doctrine.

The right to own property and exclude others from it is a fundamental feature of U.S. law. Under Mississippi common law, coastal property owners may prevent people from gaining access to the shoreline of their land. Gaining unauthorized access – either perpendicularly or horizontally to the shore – may be trespassing for which one may be liable in court.

The government has authority under its police powers to make laws protecting the welfare of its citizens, including regulating lands next to beaches and shores. Under the public trust doctrine, the government is obliged to act on behalf of the public to protect publicly-owned submerged lands below the mean low tide line, and publicly owned natural resources such as fish, bivalves, and seaweed that might be extracted from the shore.

The U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions also give the government the right to take private property under the power of eminent domain but only if the landowner receives appropriate compensation. Sometimes the government’s attempts merely to regulate behavior on or use of land goes so far as to amount to a "taking" requiring the government to pay the landowner for the lost value of the land.

State laws affecting public access to the shore include:

  • Coastal Wetlands Protection Act
Miss. Code § 49-27-1 et seq.
  • Mississippi Recreational Use Statute
Miss. Code § 89-2-1 et seq.
  • Public Trust Tidelands Act
Miss. Code § 29-15-1 et seq.
  • Boat and Water Safety Laws
Miss. Code § 59-21-1 et seq.


Federal laws affecting public access to the shore include:

  • US Coastal Zone Management Act

The report A Post-Katrina Inventory and Assessment of Public Access Sites: Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties, Mississippi (June 30, 2009) provides the following discussion:

Overview of Public Access Rights
"Public access rights were founded over a thousand years ago in Rome and ultimately brought to America under a law now known as the Public Trust Doctrine. The Doctrine stipulates that the public has the legal right to full enjoyment and use of certain coastal resources. Originally, the law was applied specifically to navigable waters, their water bottoms and living resources. Through a subsequent legal decision those protected rights were extended to include “bathing, swimming, recreation, fishing, and mineral development”. Now, protected access is no longer restricted to navigable waters; additionally, access rights apply whether the waters and shore are publicly or privately owned. Mississippi’s responsibilities to preserve and protect the right to use and enjoy coastal resources are broadly defined in state code and several legislative decisions, including a 1994 Mississippi court case that led to the establishment of what is now commonly known as the Tidelands Trust Fund, which is regularly used to provide funding for public access facilities in coastal Mississippi.

To paraphrase the law, Mississippi is obligated under the Public Trust Doctrine to protect and preserve all waters or wetlands subject to the ebb and flow of the tide below the mean high water level, regardless of whether the waters were commercially navigable when Mississippi became a state, regardless of how insignificant the tidal influence might be, regardless of how shallow the water, and regardless of how far inland or remote from the sea the protected water might be. This responsibility extends to any minerals or other subsurface or living resources. The responsibility was later clarified to provide for efficient management of resources to ensure public use, environmental protection and enhancement, and economic growth.

The most common and traditional uses with public access protection are navigation, commerce, and fishing. These uses are broadly interpreted to include both commercial and recreational activities. Fishing rights include shellfishing and hunting. Other traditional uses include boating, swimming, shore activities and other water-dependent public activities. Traditional rights have been extended to protect general recreational uses, visual access, preservation of indigenous living resources, and environmental protection. Some states, including Mississippi,

have broadened these rights to include tourism."

In August 2012 a judge ruled the state had no claim on two parcels of property on East Beach in Ocean Springs. Two families had filed a lawsuit in early 2010 when Ocean Springs had proposed constructing a 3,470-foot long sidewalk on the beach. The city had obtained a lease along the beach from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, just as it did for the 1.2-mile walkway along Front Beach. In addition, the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources approved the project. The families said they own about 1,000 feet of the property where the proposed sidewalk was to be located. They said the property south of the road and the seawall was on their deeds and they pay taxes on it. The issue ended up in Jackson County Chancery Court. In the meantime, city officials abandoned their plans to construct the sidewalk on East Beach. In the August decision, the chancellor found the tidelands owned by the state is the current mean high water line that adjoins the lands owned by families. The judge said as far as he could determine the beach between the seawall and the mean high water line was natural-made, not man-made. "There is no factual basis for finding that the tidelands of the State extend any further inland than the mean high water line of the existing shoreline," Lancaster wrote. Jackson County Board of Supervisors President John McKay said the ruling makes a majority of the beaches in Jackson County private property. The wording that Lancaster used in his decision could also include other beaches in Jackson County as well as Hancock County. The secretary of state’s office and two coastal governments are now (early 2015) challenging the 2012 decision.

The Coastal Program has two goals related to public access:

  • “to assist local governments in the provision of public facilities services in a manner consistent with the coastal program” and
  • “to encourage the preservation of natural scenic qualities in the coastal area.”


The MSCMP is addressing public access through the development of a Public Access Management Plan that will provide the public with information on public access facilities and guidance for the redevelopment of facilities. The Coastal Preserves Program also improves public access through the acquisition, management, and construction of public access enhancements to lands within coastal preserves.

Site Inventory

Mississippi's DMR Coastal Zone Management Program §309 Revised Assessment and Strategy, April, 2006 provides the following information:

  • "Park areas encompass approximately 4500 acres in the three coastal counties. These park areas include the following categories: local parks and playgrounds, state parks, national forest lands, national wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas, and state or federally designated historical sites.
  • The Mississippi Gulf Coast includes 26 miles of sand beach primarily along Highway 90 (Beach Blvd) in Harrison County. The coast also has public beach access in Hancock and Jackson Counties. In addition to the mainland beaches, Ship Island has public beaches accessible by daily ferries. Improvements to public beaches over the years include boardwalks, public fishing piers, public showers and restrooms, and an ongoing beach renourishment program.
  • Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the three coastal counties combined had a total of 53 public access boat launch facilities. The majority of which have been constructed through Tidelands funds. The breakdown by county is: Hancock – 12, Harrison – 13, and Jackson – 28. It is unclear at this time how many of these have been significantly impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
  • The coastal counties have over 35 miles of uninterrupted beach views primarily in Harrison and Hancock Counties along Highway 90. The barrier islands forming the Gulf Islands National Seashore, including Petit Bois, Horn, Ship, Cat, Round and Deer Islands, provide open expanses of scenic viewsheds.
  • The exact number of [State or Locally Designated Perpendicular Rights-of-Way] is unknown at this time although approximately 90 have been identified throughout the coastal region. These 90 Rights-of-Way provide access to various launches, marinas, and piers that exist throughout the coast, and that are identified and quantified in other sections of this table.
  • Most publicly accessible trails are associated with the state, local and federally maintained parks and natural areas around the coast. These include the Gulf Islands National Seashore Visitor’s Center, Scranton Nature Center in Pascagoula, Clower-Thorton Nature area in Gulfport, and trails located within the DeSoto National Forest in Harrison County.
  • Ship Island contains the only dune walkovers within the coastal region.
  • Because the sum total of all public access sites throughout the coastal region are owned and managed by different levels of government (local, state, federal), compiling hard data on enhancements is difficult. However, most facilities are continually upgraded as funding is made available for those activities. Using Tidelands Trust Fund activities as the measuring stick, it is evident that in addition to developing new public access resources, there is a high level of emphasis on enhancing and improving existing resources."


The Assessment also notes:

"The primary deficiencies in data relative to public access have more to do with the fact that public control over different types of access varies between governmental sectors through the local, state and federal levels of government. At the present time, the level of spatial data that exists specific to public access opportunities is quite good. However, the general public may or may not have the ability to access the available data. While most “locals” have adequate knowledge based on word of mouth or force of habit the same may not be true of visitors and tourists seeking to take advantage of public access opportunities along the coast.
The state has information specific to public access through the Department of Marine Resources’ website. The site provides details on such access types as piers, launches and marinas but it does not necessarily provide all-inclusive information on all categories of public access. The site does however; provide an interactive geographic information system that provides both graphical and textual information specific to the categories of public access as mentioned above. The website is updated on a regular basis as new and relevant information is available."


A Post-Katrina Inventory and Assessment of Public Access Sites: Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties, Mississippi (Revised September 2011) was prepared for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Coastal Zone Management Program, by Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District as Phases I and II of a three-year study of public access resources in the three coastal counties of Mississippi. The purpose of the inventory was two-fold: to update a previous study published in 2001, but also to assess site conditions following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

From the document:

"When the last public access study of the three coastal counties was done in 2000-2001, the Mississippi Coast was booming. Unprecedented growth in the economy, as well as significant population growth and secondary growth impacts, had created a high demand for waterfront property. Developers of all types – casino, condominium, hotel, and others – were competing for waterfront sites and posing increasing challenges to the traditional water-based activities in the area – fishing, shrimping, beach access, scenic vistas, and recreational boating. Despite that demand, the 2001 study concluded that access opportunities were sufficient through existing sites and planned future development. The study determined that the focus of DMR’s Public Access strategy over the next five years should be enhancement of existing sites and facilities.
Everything changed on August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast with lethal force, leaving a wide swath of destruction from state line to state line. Katrina’s Category 3 winds and Category 5 storm surge demolished most structures in her path. The majority of existing public access sites and facilities were obliterated and swept away.
Initially, the focus was on cleanup and recovery. This phase was a massive undertaking considering the scope and extent of the damage. A second and overlapping focus was restoration of critical systems and infrastructure. As this report is written – four years after the storm – comprehensive restoration of infrastructure has not yet been completed. But by late 2007/early 2008, efforts were underway to measure and remediate losses to less critical structures. Many public access facilities fell into this category, and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources recognized a need to conduct an inventory and assessment of these sites. Some remained as ravaged as they had been post-Katrina; some had been completely rebuilt; and others were somewhere in between. As the public access inventory progressed during the summer of 2008, the Mississippi Gulf Coast met Fay, Gustav, and Ike. Though none of these hurricanes were direct hits, all created new impacts on coastal resources, including sites that had been inventoried and assessed prior to the hurricane season. Hurricane Gustav, especially, caused widespread damage from storm surge, flooding, and tropical storm force winds. Some of the public access facilities that had been rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were heavily damaged or destroyed again. The inventory and assessment process continued, but had been dealt a setback that underscored the need for a long-term public access management strategy, one that would include mitigation measures to protect against future losses of facilities and a mechanism for regular status updates. The tools produced through this project will form a foundation for the development of that management strategy in the next few years."


The Mississippi Coastal Public Access Site Map is a companion document that offers a visual depiction of the location of these sites, photographs of the sites, available amenities, and a brief summary of the condition of the site when it was last visited. This is the Phase II version of the map, showing the status of rebuilding – some completed, some in progress, and some remaining as is.

Here's some general information about beaches in Mississippi.

Beach Attendance Records

No information was found.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

In 2003, the Gulf of Mexico’s ocean economy employed more than 562,000 people, paid wages of more than $13.2 billion, and contributed over $32 billion to the region’s gross state product.[1] Tourism and recreation comprised 71 percent of the employment in the Gulf region’s 2003 ocean economy.[2]

The above statistics are from a report by NRDC that summarizes the results of several surveys and evaluations that attempt to quantify the positive economic impact of beach and ocean recreation, recreational and commercial fishing, and ecosystems value from the Gulf of Mexico's ocean resources.


NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).
The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.


A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

Mississippi's 2006-2010 Section 309 Assessment and Strategy noted:

"Use conflicts related to public access improvements are increasing on the coast. The lack of marina space and boat ramps means less access for recreational boating and fishing. However, the development of additional resources generally leads to conflicts with other users. The maturing casino industry coupled with the emerging development of condominiums along the coast continues to have the potential to cause a reduction in the amount of land available for public access facilities. However, recent events have occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that should have a significant impact on this issue. The primary event being the State Legislature’s passing of a bill during the 2005 5th extraordinary session of the Mississippi Legislature that provides for the development of casinos on land and within 800’ of the mean high water line. While this is a positive impact related to development pressures on the coast, the emerging condominium industry has the potential to offset any gains that were made through this legislation with respect to property use and public access.
Another primary impediment to providing adequate public access at this time exists with the impacts and effects of Hurricane Katrina. While some access points, piers and other facilities were actually protected from the effects of wind and wave action due to inundation, many of the existing public access facilities along the coast were either destroyed or significantly damaged due to the effects of the storm. The destructive impacts of the hurricane issues are to be addressed such as derelict pilings remaining from destroyed facilities."


NOAA's April 2010 evaluation of Mississippi's Coastal Management Program stated:

"The MSCMP identified several challenges to providing public access along the Mississippi coast in their 2006-2010 309 Assessment. During NOAA's [latest (January 2005 – March 2009)] evaluation period, many public access facilities along the coast of Mississippi were destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. New development patterns including the emergence of casinos and condominiums on the coast have restricted public access. In addition, although many locals know where public access points are located, visitors don’t always know the location of the nearest public access points.
In response to these public access challenges, the MSCP developed a strategy under the CZMA Section 309 Enhancement Program to bring together state agencies and local governments to create a coastal Public Access Management Plan to comprehensively address public access facilities including: siting; providing the public with information on the location, type of facility, and the condition/status (at the time of the site visit public access facilities were still being rebuilt); and funding for long-term capital improvements. The MSCP hopes the plan will be adopted by both the state and local governments and once adopted will guide the location and development of public access facilities. At the time of the site visit, the project consultant had inventoried public access sites throughout the coastal zone and developed a searchable beta ARC-IMS database. The database is now available on-line at http://gis.smpdd.com/dmrpublicaccess/."

Public Education Program

Accessing the Mississippi Coast, from Auburn University Marine Extension & Research Center, provides extensive information regarding coastal access for private waterfront landowners, government and public entities, and waterfront users. Also included are frequently-asked questions, a coastal access toolkit and common law and statutes.


Mississippi's 2006-2010 Assessment and Strategy noted:

"DMR continues to implement a diverse education and outreach program in conjunction with multiple partners including the Grand Bay NERR, EPA Region 4, NOAA, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the three counties and multiple municipalities throughout the coastal region. Through these partnerships, DMR has conducted multiple conferences and workshops including the CRMP Smart Growth Conference, which is now in its 7th year. In addition to the conferences, DMR has worked with and through its partners to produce numerous publications including a coastal wetlands booklet and brochure, the Coastal Preserves/GEMS website, and guides related to birding and other eco-tourism activities. In addition to the above, the Coastal Ecology staff routinely participates in meetings and presentations throughout the coastal region."

Contact Info

Director: Tina Shumate
Mark Boyles, Staff Officer
Grant Larsen, Staff Officer
Susan Perkins, Staff Officer
Rhonda Price, Staff Officer
MS Department of Marine Resources
1141 Bayview Avenue
Biloxi, MS 39530
Telephone: (228) 374-5000 | Toll free: (800) 374-3449 | FAX: (228) 374-5005

Footnotes

  1. Colgan, Charles. 2008. “The Ocean Economy of the Gulf of Mexico in National Perspective” in The Changing Coastal and Ocean Economics of the Gulf of Mexico. Edited by Judith Kildow, Charles Colgan, and Linwood Pendleton, University of Texas Press. (pp. 2, 3). Please note that this analysis relied on 2003 data from the National Ocean Economics Program (http://www.oceaneconomics.org/). The author estimated the ocean economy of Florida by using only those counties adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, from Monroe County north; Florida counties on the Atlantic coast were excluded.
  2. Colgan, Charles. 2008. “The Ocean Economy of the Gulf of Mexico in National Perspective” in The Changing Coastal and Ocean Economics of the Gulf of Mexico. Edited by Judith Kildow, Charles Colgan, and Linwood Pendleton, University of Texas Press. (pp. 2, 3). Please note that this analysis relied on 2003 data from the National Ocean Economics Program (http://www.oceaneconomics.org/). The author estimated the ocean economy of Florida by using only those counties adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, from Monroe County north; Florida counties on the Atlantic coast were excluded.


State of the Beach Report: Mississippi
Mississippi Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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