By: Kim Albins
Gulf of Mexico Regional Coordinator Kim Albins visits the barge removal at Horn Island on August 21, 2013.
The barge located off Horn Island is just one of hundreds of abandoned derelict vessels in the Gulf of Mexico region. It is a mystery how this particular barge became abandoned some 40 years ago; however, many vessels are ripped from their moorings and grounded in the shallow waters during severe hurricanes, while others are simply abandoned by negligent owners.
Horn Island is a peaceful isle with sugar-white sands and captivating lagoons, located to the south of Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the National Park Service’s Gulf Islands National Seashore. The island is home to diverse wildlife, including alligators, herons, pelicans, ospreys, and other migratory birds. In stark contrast, the rusting metallic barge, which was over half the length of a football field, jutting out from the water, was a safety hazard and adversely altered seagrass habitat. Seagrass beds are essential habitat for species of conservation concern (e.g. sea turtles) including fishes, shrimp, and crabs. Seagrass beds also improve water quality, dampen waves, and stabilize sediment. The wrecked barge replaced seagrass beds with bare sand substrate and prevented re-colonization of seagrass from nearby patches.
To promote ecological restoration of Horn Island, the National Park Service’s Matthew Johnson, with support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP), spearheaded a large collaborative effort to assess and remove the sunken barge.
On August 21, Gulf Stream Marine Enterprises, Inc. (contracted by the NPS) team, led by the Ladnier brothers, Will and Greg, began extracting large portions of the barge, successfully removing the majority of the remains within the first few days. Further operations to assess the underwater portions of the site are underway. With the barge removed, we hope that seagrass will grow once again in this area.
MDP is working with state and federal partners to better understand and address the issues of abandoned derelict vessels nationally and in the Gulf of Mexico. Piece by piece we hope to see derelict vessels removed and natural habitats restored.