Gulf Islands National Seashore
Stretching 150 miles, the barrier islands and coastal mainland that make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi and Florida are an immense playground for kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico provide a nesting home for four out of seven species of sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins. And intensely white sand beaches provide ample room for wandering wild coastline.
Last week, a judge found that the “serenity, the tranquility – indeed, the majesty” of the seashore, along with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan, a 42 mile stretch of shoreline along Lake Superior that features impressive rock formations, natural archways and waterfalls, are being compromised by “highly polluting and noisy” Jet Skis and directed the National Park Service to reconsider whether to allow jet skis in these parks.
“Millions of visitors enjoy our parks to canoe, fish and bird watch in these special areas,” said Leslie Jones, General Counsel of The Wilderness Society. “The Court found what Americans know—recreation opportunities that protect, not harm, irreplaceable wildlife and shoreline habitat of these national parks should be preserved.”
This ruling is the culmination of more than ten years of work conservation groups, including The Wilderness Society, to protect park resources and maintain compatible recreation opportunities. In 2000, the Park Service banned Jet Skis, but allowed individual parks to reintroduce them based on park-specific findings that they would not impair park resources. The Court’s ruling rejects the Park Service’s finding that jet skis would not impair the Gulf Islands and Pictured Rocks parks, and explains in detail the adverse impacts Jet Skis cause.
One species that the Court exemplified as adversely affecting by Jet Skis was the bottlenose dolphin, the most common marine mammal documented in the Gulf Islands. The Court emphasized the Park Service’s finding that “when exposed to the noise from just two Jet Skis, which is far less than the expected number on a typical summer day, the bottlenose dolphins would experience ‘substantially reduced echolocation and communication abilities.” Looking at these and many other impacts, the Court repeatedly asked why the Park Service had concluded that these adverse impacts should be permitted in a National Park.
Given the Court’s findings of harm, the agency should heed the Court’s suggestion that it allow Jet Ski users to, in the Court’s words, “enjoy their vehicles in other, equally accessible areas, without threatening” the national parks.
Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo by National Park Service.