Mississippi owns all but 17 acres of Deer Island, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Wednesday, “You can go to your own island.”
Hosemann was at the Schooner Pier in Biloxi to tout the island — “a phenomenal pearl” — and to show new drone footage along miles of undisturbed sandy beaches interspersed with video of birds flying and kids swimming.
“Look out there. That’s what you own,” Hosemann said.
But residents and visitors will have to find their own ride to the slip of land just off the East Biloxi Coast, he said. The state took bids for ferry service but decided instead to let individual boat owners provide service as requested.
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“It’s going to be a private-sector venture,” said Jamie Miller, director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Existing charter boat operators or those who want to provide ferry service to the island will need a charter license. They also are encouraged to participate in a DMR workshop to learn the history of the island and to identify the ecologically sensitive areas the public should avoid.
Tidelands funds, used to buy the island, also paid for a new boat pier on the north side of the island between Hard Rock Casino and the new Margaritaville Resort.
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett referenced access to nearby Deer Island in his message during last week’s opening of the resort.
Hosemann joked that he started sipping a margarita right away, but more seriously acknowledged the benefit of Buffett drawing attention to the asset.
Hosemann said Deer Island will attract families and boost the idea of “Stay one more day,” which encourages families to extend their vacation by a day.
“It ends up being tens of millions of dollars for the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said.
Ship Island Excursions, which provides ferry service from Gulfport to Ship Island, is considering service to Deer Island, said Kevin Buckel, director of sales, but is focused on opening a Biloxi location of Ship Island Excursions next year.
The pier is in 3.5 feet of water at high tide, Hosemann said, so boats will have to be small to navigate in that amount of water.
There are no restrooms. Hosemann said he hopes Tidelands funds will be available to build a structure to provide storm cover and some restrooms.
Otherwise the island will be undeveloped.
Mississippi State University’s Geosystems Research Institute used two types of unmanned aerial vehicles to map the island and capture its beauty.
Robert Moorehead, director of the institute, said they worked with Keesler Air Force Base to fly into their air space to get prime footage for maps and to promote the island as an ecological and economic treasure.