The Mississippi Sound harbors the largest bay, sound, and estuarine bottlenose dolphin population in the United States, and it is an important nursery for juvenile dolphins. The Mississippi Sound also serves as an important developmental habitat for the most endangered sea turtle species, the Kemp’s ridley. As top predators, dolphins and sea turtles are a biological indicator of the environment. Therefore, they serve as a good model and indicator to determine the overall ecological health of the Mississippi Sound habitat. However, the Mississippi Sound is heavily impacted by freshwater inputs from large watersheds, such as the Mississippi River, Pearl River, and Pascagoula River, by large ecological disasters, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and by natural events such as hurricanes and algal blooms. This program is evaluating population dynamics of marine mammals and sea turtles, their health, and the delineation of their habitat to effectively understand and monitor the restoration and recovery of the population, particularly after an unusual mortality event in 2019.
The GCAHFS manages the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Abundance, Population Health, Habitat Delineation, and Restoration program and has received over $3.7 million in funding from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which is administered by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.