The aquatic resources of the area have been the lifeblood of the region since the time of the Native Americans. These resources have been used as a source of food and as essential transportation routes. The rivers of the Mississippi Gulf Coast flow directly into the Mississippi Sound or the Gulf of Mexico. They are surrounded by bottomland hardwood forest in their upper reaches that give way to extensive expanses of marshes along their lower channels.
Estuaries separate the fresh-water rivers from the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico. Geologically, the estuaries are flooded river mouths that serve as nurseries for many species, and produce diverse habitats that support an extensive assortment of flora and fauna. These estuaries provide a breeding ground for many of the region's recreational and commercial fisheries.
The Mississippi Sound extends from the coastline to the barrier islands along the Gulf of Mexico. The Sound is a large, shallow expanse of water that serves as a protected navigation corridor, an estuarine fisheries habitat and an ideal setting for numerous recreational activities. The four east-to-west trending barrier islands dampen wave action and storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico, thereby providing a measure of protection for the coastal marshlands, settlements, ports and marinas. They also provide an escape to an unspoiled environment that is becoming elusive in America.