Mississippi's Gulf Coast is home to a resounding ecosystem, and those visiting might just find that an eco-tour is the perfect way to see it.

By Aditya S. Published

The Gulf Coast is a stretch of coastline where the American South meets the Gulf of Mexico. The water is warm all year round, acting as an incubator for complex forms of life. The favorable conditions have spawned a rich biosphere and scenery, especially around coastal Mississippi. In recognition of its historical and ecological importance, Mississippi's Gulf Coast is a designated National Heritage Area.

Alligator Tourism On The Mississippi Gulf Coast

Mississippi's southern shore is characterized by swamplands and freshwater streams. Naturally, one of the most notorious species inhabiting the marshes is alligators. The residents of Southern Mississippi have shared the land with alligators for centuries, so much so that these ancient reptiles play a big role in the local culture and economy.

Visitors are often surprised to find alligator meat on the menus in coastal Mississippi towns like Biloxi. Alligator meat is relatively mild, so it is usually served fried or in sausage form, which is compatible with most palettes. Some adventurous foodies might be interested in trying alligator tongue, a local delicacy. Alternatively, start the day with a hearty alligator egg omelet.

While these cold-blooded killers are all over the place, including the highways, the best and safest way to get up close and personal is at the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch. It is the oldest gator farm in Mississippi and is home to some of the largest gators in the region.

  • Address: 10300 Hwy 90, Moss Point, MS, 39562
  • Airboat Tour Tickets Price: $35 for adults, $20 for children
  • Note: Pregnant women and children under four are not allowed on the airboats

Visitors will have the chance to hand-feed alligators Steve Irwin-style, and explore over 100-acres of pristine swampland in a guided airboat tour. Along the way, tourists will see an abundance of rare birdlife, the kind that cannot be seen or found anywhere other than deep in the alligator-infested swamps.

Marine Exploration In The Mississippi Gulf Coast

Rivers are a prominent feature of Mississippi's Gulf Coast. There are three main rivers that feed into the ocean - the Pascagoula, Wolf, and Jourdan. Each river has unique characteristics from passing through different lands and carrying distinct silt profiles.

The most popular river is the Pascagoula. The 81-mile (130km) waterway is one of the last unregulated river systems in the country. Most tours of the river begin in the south and move north. Beginning in brackish water, the landscape is populated by alligators, snakes, frogs, giant spider webs, birds nests, lush foliage, and thick mangroves. The surroundings change further north as the water turns fresh. Preferring low-salinity and wide-open spaces, otters, beavers, and bald eagles inhabit the upstream ecosystem.

  • Fact: Brackish water is a mix of salt- and freshwater

Wolf River is another major attraction that's worth checking out. The name refers to the American Red Wolf, a cousin of the Gray Wolf. Red wolves were common throughout the southeastern U.S., but due to a rise in agriculture, they have been hunted into near-extinction. Today, there are around 35 red wolves left in the world, and none of them live in Mississippi.

Visitors can take a canoe or kayak trip down the river, starting north in freshwater and pine forests. Classic forest creatures dwell on the riverbanks, including foxes, coyotes, deer, and rabbits. Following the currents, visitors will end up in the river delta and subsequent estuaries, where the atmosphere is dark and damp. The transition from fresh to salinated water is gradual but stark and reveals something meaningful about the inner workings of nature.

  • Fact: Estuaries are formed when fresh river water and salty ocean water mix

The Jourdan River BlueWay is a water trail, which works similarly to a hiking trail, except it requires a boat. Kayakers will behold a multitude of wildlife and birdlife up close and from within their native habitats. The river trail passes through the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge, where lucky visitors might catch sight of an endangered Sandhill Crane.

Island Hopping In The Mississippi Gulf

There are six barrier islands on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. All of the islands can be accessed by private boat, but only Ship Island offers a ferry service, making it easier to reach. Each island is unique and worth visiting. These are some of the highlights.

  • Fact: A barrier island is a flat coastal formation characterized by sand dunes and marshlands

Contrary to its name, Cat Island is not populated by cats. Several centuries ago, the island was full of North American raccoons. When Spanish explorers arrived, they mistook the foreign creatures for cats and named the island accordingly. Ironically, during World War II, the U.S. Army used Cat Island as a site for training dogs. Nowadays, the bayous and marshes of Cat Island are home to gators and cranes.

  • Fact: A bayou is a slow-moving body of water in a flat, low-lying area

Deer Island is the closest island to the mainland. It was named after the deer that supposedly swim to the island during hunting season. On Deer Island, visitors can find ancient artifacts such as arrowheads that were left behind by Biloxi tribals hundreds of years ago.

For traditional vacation activities, look no further than Horn Island. Unwind along the miles of sandy beaches, or swim in one of the crystal-clear inland lagoons. Visitors with a little more energy will find that the Horn Island sand dunes offer a tough but rewarding hiking opportunity. Unlike the other Gulf Islands, most of which are full of muddy waters and lurking gators, Horn Island has towering pine trees and freshwater inlets.

The Gulf Coast of Mississippi is an exciting vacation destination that offers a wide array of activities. The region is rife with natural scenery, ancient wildlife, and colorful birds. Ecotourists with a flair for adventure should consider heading down south on their next vacation.

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