An island south of Pascagoula and Gautier is not family friendly right now.
The island, for now called the Round Island Marsh Restoration project, is constructed of dredged materials that appears to be solid. But the solid crust can give way and drop a man, woman or even child through to soft material beneath that one engineer described as “like quicksand.”
In some places, that material is 16 feet deep.
Even though the island has tempting white-sand beaches and is an easy paddle by kayak from the Pascagoula beach, it is dangerous and the state is warning people not to stop there.
This island is in a phase of marsh creation that will make it hazardous for some time as the interior material dries out. It won’t be ready for public use for as long as two years.
State work crews formed the 220-acre island using dredge material from the Pascagoula Channel dredging. It lies between Singing River Island and Round Island, and the state calls it the Round Island Marsh Restoration project. Both the state departments of Environmental Quality and Marine Resources are involved.
It is technically Round Island, but it doesn’t look like it yet. This project, funded by money from 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is working to restore the footprint Round Island had 300 to 500 years ago. In the 1800s, it was 130 acres. Today it is closer to 25.
An $8 million sand berm was built to hold the dredge material and create the land and marsh.
The sand berm is part of a larger project paid for from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, created to resolve certain criminal charges against companies involved in the 2010 oil spill.
This project is part of a larger one — $21 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation — that deals with finding beneficial uses for dredge spoils. It is finding sites for dredge material in all three Coast counties. This dredge-spoil island does not adjoin Round Island yet, though it may be someday, according to the DMR.
But what’s urgent is that in the island’s current state, it’s dangerous. It’s posted with signs that say “Danger,” Construction Area” and “Keep Out.”
The initial phase of work is complete and the machinery and workers who have been warning boaters away are leaving Friday.
Marc Wyatt, director of MDEQ’s Office of Restoration, said one major concern is the weakness of the crusty top layer.
Officials don’t want anyone stopping on the beach and wandering into the interior of the island.
“The top layer looks hard,” Wyatt told the Sun Herald. “We had an engineer who walked out there and dropped to his chest.
“We had him. He was fine, but he said underneath felt like it was quicksand.”
Until the material inside the berm dries out and can hold the weight of a person, the new island will remain off limits.
MDEQ’s Robbie Wilbur would not speculate on when it would be safe to walk on the island.
Boaters, he said, should stay away indefinitely.