Ms. Alena Quinn Anderson, MSU Extension Service
BILOXI, Miss. -- Coastal Mississippi’s natural habitats are easily accessible and provide opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities, such as fishing, hiking and kayaking. As spring approaches and warmer weather beckons local residents and visitors outside, nature-based-tourism (NBT) businesses should be in high demand.
However, there are still relatively few NBT-focused businesses in the area. To further expand into the coast long-established programs such as Natural Resource Enterprises that provide opportunities for potential business owners to develop nature-based enterprises, the Gulf Coast Outpost Program was created.
Established by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the Gulf Coast Outpost Program aims to promote local NBT businesses. Participating organizations provide a wide range of services and experiences, including shrimping trips, discovery centers and eco-tours.
When a business completes training requirements focused on sustainability and stewardship of the environment, it is recognized as a Gulf Coast Outpost and gains access to the promotional materials developed by this program. Outposts receive a resource toolkit, marketing opportunities and eligibility to apply for the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area (MGCNHA) Heritage Community Grants program.
Since the program’s start in 2016, only a handful of businesses have taken advantage of the course and its incentives. Limited availability of educational resources, as well as training times that conflict with business hours, have made it challenging for businesses to complete the certification requirements necessary for participation.
In response, specialists from the Mississippi State University Extension Service and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium are working to enhance the program. Presently, members of this team are developing a library of online training modules that cover a variety of locally relevant topics -- from living shorelines to sea level rise resilience.
The project team is drawing from various existing programs offered by the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Center to create and administer online training options. Some of these programs include Master Naturalist, Student Naturalist, Coastal Cleanup, Inland Cleanup, Coastal Conservation and Restoration, Marine Fisheries Ecology, PLACE-SLR and Plastic Free Gulf Coast.
The new course design will allow business owners and operators flexibility to complete the training requirements when their schedules allow. Moreover, the new training modules will increase accessibility of the Gulf Coast Outpost certification program, and participating NBT businesses will be better equipped to transfer knowledge of sustainability and stewardship to the clients they serve.
Project leaders plan to launch the online Canvas course this spring, and MSU will continue to host the course and solicit creation of updated materials. This ongoing work will help ensure that the course remains relevant to coastal Mississippi’s needs. In this way, the expansion of the Gulf Coast Outpost Program will lead to more informed and abundant nature-based tourism businesses in coastal Mississippi, and in turn, a more environmentally conscious public.
For more information about the Gulf Coast Outpost Program, please visit https://gulfcoastoutpost.com/