Bacteria Close Mississippi Gulf Coast Mainland Beaches

By The Associated Press

People and pets are being warned to stay out of the water along the entire mainland of the Mississippi Gulf Coast as toxic bacteria continue spreading eastward.

Along the state’s Gulf Coast, all 21 of the state’s beaches have been shut down for swimming due to a blue-green harmful algal bloom (HAB), according to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

The MDEQ started closing some beaches on June 22 and on Sunday, July 7, the last two sections closed near the Alabama line.

The agency has warned that polluted Midwest floodwaters have fed an outbreak of cyanobacterium. Popularly known as blue-green algae (HAB), it can cause rashes, diarrhea and vomiting. It is spreading as water from the Mississippi River pours into the Gulf of Mexico.

Blooms can be caused by a variety of factors, including increases in nutrient levels from fertilizer run-off, low water flows, changes in water temperature or changes in ocean currents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

HABs aren’t rare. In fact, every U.S. coastal and Great Lakes state experiences them, the NOAA says. However, they are popping up with increasing frequency due to climate change and increasing nutrient pollution, according to the NOAA.

HABs are detrimental to the health of the people and marine ecosystems, as well as local coastal economies who rely on revenue from fishing and tourism, the NOAA says.

If you think you may have been exposed to toxic algae, the CDC recommends calling your local poison information center or consulting your doctor about managing symptoms.

Mississippi’s Beaches

Though the state says people can still use the sand portion of the beaches, they should avoid water contact or consumption of anything from the waters “until further notice.”

Mississippi’s beaches are a tourist attraction, but those farther east along the Gulf Coast in Alabama and Florida draw more visitors because the water is generally clearer with more waves. Barrier islands along Mississippi tend to keep the water relatively calm.

The National Park Service said Sunday that beaches remained open on Mississippi’s barrier islands, and park rangers were monitoring water conditions because of the algae bloom closer to the mainland.

One of the places remaining open was the popular tourist site of Ship Island, which is about 11 miles south of Gulfport and Biloxi.

The CNN Wire contributed to this article.