As travelers plan their Earth Month activities, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is excited to offer guests a variety of opportunities to volunteer, explore and protect its natural resources while they visit. With 62 miles of scenic coastline,several nature reserves – like the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf Island National Seashore – cypress swamps, bayous and salt marshes to explore, sustainable travel is important to preserve these diverse ecosystems, throughout April, and all year long.
“Attractions, businesses and tourism partners along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are committed to sustainability and the preservation of our abundant natural resources. Many have taken major strides with new sustainable programs including oyster shell recycling, dozens of farm-to-table restaurants to choose from, and endless ways to immerse yourself in nature,” said Pattye Meagher, Director of Communications and Engagement at Coastal Mississippi CVB. “We at Coastal Mississippi hope that visitors not only have a fantastic experience in our destination, but that they also learn a little bit about our unique environments and wildlife, and feel inspired to help us keep them healthy, so we’ve curated a list of sustainable experiences they can enjoy during Earth Month, but also year-round.”
Sustainable Programs, Events & Volunteer Opportunities
Opened on March 1, The Collective Ocean Springs is a mixed-use entertainment property with big plans for a sustainable future. Owned and operated by Rain Residential, the property serves as a hub for community makers, growers, chefs and entrepreneurs to share their talents in a collaborative and eco-conscious way. At the center of The Collective is a sustainable garden and organic chicken farm that will provide fresh foods and resources for a new restaurant and development. Within the next year, the development plans to open an amphitheater, nano brewery, bookstore and a farm-to-table restaurant called Apple Pear Restaurant and Farm, helmed by Ocean Springs native and renowned chef Alex Perry, a 2023 James Beard Award Finalist and chef/owner of nearby Vestige restaurant. Visitors can also stop by every Wednesday from 3-6 p.m., for a community Farmers Market with live local music, a pop-up bar and more.
This year, The Nature Conservancy of Mississippi is launching a pilot oyster shell recycling program called Save Our Shells (SOS) to help conserve oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The program officially launched during the 7th Annual Gulf Coast Oyster Cook-off and Festival in March, with many top local restaurants, hotels, and businesses participating like White Pillars, Beau Rivage Resort & Casino and Keg & Barrel. Visitors can feel good patronizing partner businesses, knowing that oyster shells are delivered to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources to be processed and integrated into restoration projects.
Plastic Free Gulf Coast is an organization dedicated to eliminating single-use plastic before it becomes part of the waste stream through partnerships with local schools, businesses and restaurants. Visitors can stop by plastic-free partners like Mockingbird Café in Bay St. Louis, Greenhouse Biloxi and more, for delicious eats and a sustainable experience. Some of the coast’s top museums are also plastic-free partners, including the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum. The program provides tips and resources, and even organizes regular beach clean-up events for residents and visitors alike.
The Mississippi State University Monthly Coastal Clean-Up program is another great way for visitors to make an impact and help keep the coast healthy and beautiful. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, the program will host an Earth Day Celebration at the Biloxi West Beach Boardwalk. Volunteers are encouraged to sign-up ahead of time and will be provided with the necessary gear and materials needed upon arrival.
Education, Outdoors & Eco-tours
The Pascagoula River Audubon Center offers more than 70,000 protected acres of unique ecosystem along the Pascagoula River, the largest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States. On Earth Day weekend (April 21-22), the center will host a Native Plant Sale that is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. The mini festival will include kids’ activities and a wide variety of native perennials, shrubs and small trees for purchase. Other opportunities for visitors to learn and explore include kayak rentals, nature-based programming for all ages and countless volunteer opportunities like citizen science projects, litter pick up, critter care and more.
The Institute for Marine and Mammal Studies (IMMS) has aided in the rescue, rehabilitation, release and research of stranded marine animals along the Gulf Coast for nearly 40 years. In addition to daily general admission, IMMS is also currently rehabbing baby sea turtles from Massachusetts. Visitors can stop by to see the progress of these small creatures before they’re released back into the sea. Other opportunities include swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with stingrays and a wide variety of educational camps, classes and experiences to learn more about the important rescue and rehab process.
The can’t-miss Eco-Tours of South Mississippi gives guests an up-close look at the flora and fauna of the cypress swamps, bayous and salt marshes of the 80-mile-long Pascagoula River waterway–including over 300 different species of plants and an abundance of unique migratory birds–like pelicans, ospreys, herons, egrets and even bald eagles. The 2-hour interpretive tours are led by knowledgeable guides and offer a variety of watercrafts from single and tandem kayaks, to a fleet of motorized boats all powered by modern clean burning outboards.
The Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point brings visitors face to face with alligators big and small. Recognized as the oldest gator farm in the state of Mississippi, the sanctuary offers 105 acres of swamplands and wildlife to explore. Visitors can stroll along protected walkways or climb aboard a high-speed airboat tour through the preserved wilderness to catch a glimpse of alligators, turtles, birds and other wildlife.
Farm-to-table & Gulf-to-table Dining
The one-of-a-kind Makin Groceries is a plant-based café and meal prep catering service located in Biloxi. Owned and operated by local chef and mother, Lauren Turner, the company provides vegan, vegetarian, soy-free and gluten-free options that are made to order, while also offering a new farm-to-table seasonal menu every week in the café. With a strong emphasis on sustainability, Makin Groceries is also a proud partner of Plastic Free Gulf Coast. Chef Turner uses compostable and plastic-free materials, as well as fresh local ingredients in every order.
Vestige is an Ocean Springs farm-to-table restaurant whose owner and chef, Alex Perry, was recently named a 2023 James Beard Award Semi-finalist for the title “Best Chef in the South.” Perry’s approach incorporates the freshest, seasonal ingredients to create contemporary dishes inspired by the flavors and techniques of Japan–where his wife and co-owner, Kumi Omori, grew up. Vestige offers a multi-course, pre-set tasting menu that changes almost daily based on what’s fresh and in season.
Opened in August 2022, Radish is an upscale restaurant located in the heart of downtown Long Beach. Owner and chef William Rester offers an ingredient-driven menu that showcases the fresh, authentic flavors of the South using traditional techniques and preparation styles inspired by the nineteenth century farmers who harvested the land. During that time, the favorite bar snack was a long scarlet radish dipped in luxurious butter and coarse salt.
The award-winning White Pillars restaurant is owned by Mississippi-native, Austin Sumrall, and his wife Tresse Sumrall. Chef Sumrall – a 2020 James Beard Nominee and the 2021 “Great American Seafood King” – is known for fusing global flavors with fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farmers markets to curate an ever-evolving menu that mixes nostalgic and modern dining. The restaurant is also a proud partner and advocate of the Save our Shells program.
Thorny Oyster located in the heart of Bay St. Louis, inside the beautiful Pearl Hotel, serves local coastal fare with bold flavors. The menu is packed with creative seafood dishes, from raw options, to sandwiches and brisket. Founded by Chef Jeffrey Hansell and his wife, Amy Hansell, the popular locale offers a vintage modern vibe and refined plates that are extremely fresh and flavorful.
To learn more about these activities and more happening in Coastal Mississippi, visit our website at www.coastalmississippi.com.