The Pascagoula River Stage I WMA
Pascagoula River WMA offers visitors an ideal place for hunting, fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing. Additionally, those with permits may paddle through its swift-flowing currents for an authentic kayaking experience.
Migratory birds rely heavily on this river system for food and nesting sites, while it carries silt, nutrients, seeds, and sediments downriver for aquatic species to use as nutrients and shelter.
The Pascagoula River floods its banks two to three times annually, providing essential resupply of nutrient-rich silt, sediments, and seeds important for supporting diverse habitats in its flood plain, such as wetland forests and bottomland hardwoods. Floodwater also pushes away stagnant water that might otherwise harbor high levels of algae that lead to hypoxia (low oxygen), thereby further improving system health.
Pascagoula River’s unimpeded flow is vitally vital for migrating bird species. Migratory birds travel long distances during spring and fall migration seasons in search of food sources and nesting locations; its healthy basin serves as a highway that helps them locate what they require in order to continue their journey.
Flood stages are used as a gauge height whereby streams will overflow their lowest natural stream bank within their respective reach of river or stream, signaling to the public when flooding may be imminent or already taking place. The most often used, the bankfull stage, indicates when flooding starts affecting structures like homes, businesses, and roads.
Estuaries are transition zones between fresh water from rivers and saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico. Estuaries are among the world’s most productive habitats, characterized by high levels of nutrients from river sediment deposits that provide food sources to many marine fish species, as well as serving as important spawning, nursery, and feeding grounds for them.
Pascagoula River basin is one of the last undisturbed large river systems that has its natural flow drain into the Gulf of Mexico, offering healthy habitats that serve as migratory corridors or highways for hundreds of species that migrate between here and other regions – it requires food, shelter, and rest areas along its journey – providing physical benefits along the way for many creatures that use this corridor as part of their migration path.
The coastal marshes at the mouth of the Pascagoula River are an integral component of this system. Their highly productive ecosystems serve as crucial spawning and foraging grounds for several commercial and recreational marine fish species, storm surge protection, flood control, nutrient recycling services as well as storm surge protection from regional sea level rise (SLR) as well as storm surge protection against flooding, control flood waters and recycling nutrients back into the soil. However, coastal marshes remain highly vulnerable to regional sea level rise (SLR), thus contributing to their rapid decline due to restricted sediment supply or increased subsidence rates, among other factors likely contributing to SLR effects.
Pascagoula River stands out as an exceptional river because it has not been dammed or channelized, meaning it flows freely to the Gulf of Mexico and has had a positive effect on Horn Island (Mississippi’s southernmost barrier island) as well as Mississippi Sound (an area between these barrier islands and southern shoreline of Mississippi coast) which benefits both from nutrients and sediments provided by land to sea and healthy relationships between land and sea that provide support to marine food chains and their food webs.
Unaltered systems allow for natural variations in flood plain water levels that prevent pollution by ensuring normal sediment and nutrient flow through all systems.
Unaltered systems also play an essential role for migrating birds, with the Pascagoula River basin serving as a migration corridor for hundreds of bird species and its healthy habitats providing rest areas and resources during their long and arduous journeys from North America back home. Migrant birds rely heavily on abundant insects found within its healthy forests during spring and fall migration seasons to keep going strong.
Pascagoula River, as the largest unimpeded river within the Cfa Koppen climate classification zone, serves as an essential habitat for Gulf Sturgeon. These giant fish, reaching 9 feet long when fully grown, depend on large, healthy rivers with few obstructions to spawn in. Once born, young Gulf Sturgeon remain within their birth river for several years after hatching out and eventually make their journey downstream to live their lives out in open waters.
Pascagoula’s forested floodplains boast a more taxonomically and functionally diverse fish assemblage than that found in river channels, remaining flooded during winter and spring flood events and providing connectivity between rivers and floodplain lakes, resulting in complex ecological interactions.
Oxbow wetlands provide valuable wildlife habitat and store excess water that has become disconnected from its source of flow. Oxbows filter out nitrates while simultaneously providing essential habitat.
As oxbows fill and shrink, their distinct features and habitat become lost. Our research has shown that when lake ecosystems become disconnected from the main river, they tend to become less diverse and have a decreased capacity for natural nutrient cycling.
This year, water levels are critical for Jackson County industries along Bayou Casotte as well as George County Wildlife Management Area in George, where hunting seasons depend on river stages. Industrial intakes draw 20 million gallons daily from the Pascagoula River; the Merrill gauge usually indicates water levels around 18 feet.