Mississippi Closes All Beaches Due to Toxic Algae Bloom
Algal blooms can have a large impact on the area’s marine life, public health and tourism industry.
Mississippi officials have closed all 21 of the state's beaches for swimming due to a toxic algal bloom.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) began closing the beaches, which attract more than 13 million visitors per year and are a major economic driver, on June 22 and closed the last two remaining open beaches on Sunday.
"The algae can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting," the Mississippi Beach Monitoring Program, part of the MDEQ, said in a statement. Officials also warned people not to eat fish or seafood taken from affected areas.
According to the Clarion Ledger, the blue-green algal bloom was caused in part by the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening in Louisiana. The spillway, which was constructed to protect New Orleans from flooding, diverts water from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain. The spillway has been open for a record nearly 96 days this year, introducing millions of gallons of freshwater into the river, which makes its way to the coasts and creates algae bloom.
Harmful algal blooms, also known as HABs, aren't a rare occurrence. They have been reported in every U.S. coastal state, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But in Mississippi's case, where every beach is impacted, the blooms cause more than just a health threat; they also harm the state's economy.
In fiscal year 2016, visitors spent nearly $2 billion on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, according to the state's 2017 Tourism Economic Impact Report.
Officials have stressed that people can still enjoy the beaches without going in the water. But without access to the water, the state's tourism rate this summer could drop. According to NOAA, harmful algal blooms take an economic toll on coastal regions reliant on tourism and fishing. Now, experts say, all Mississippi can do is wait for water conditions to improve.
"You're going to have to wait for the tides to flush (the algae bloom) away," Larry Brand, a marine biology and ecology professor at the University of Miami, told NBC News.