From Issue Summer 2022

Researching Beach Closures' Impact

By: Grace Jones

Researching Beach Closures

Macy Leach reviews data in the Junction. (Photo by David Ammon)

From the small farming town of Pelahatchie, Mississippi, Macy Leach and her family have been life-long Bulldog fans. Leach's dad attended Mississippi State while her mom went to the Mississippi University for Women, and their love story started and grew in Starkville.

"We have always been Mississippi State fans, and it was my main option when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to college," Leach said. "My parents started dating here and MSU is their special place, and my family has a lot of ties here, so there is an encouraging and loving atmosphere here that we really like about MSU."

Leach initially came to MSU as an industrial engineering student, and eventually realized she wanted to change her major. At the end of her sophomore year, Leach made the leap to agribusiness to pursue a curriculum that incorporated agriculture, business, and economics.

"I just had to jump for it; I did research on the program, and it sounded like something I thought I would enjoy, and I love it," Leach said. "Changing my major sophomore year was terrifying, but I love it and the people here. This major gave me the blend of all my interests and had a good atmosphere. Once I transferred, I immediately loved the people, curriculum, and I was able to gain research and work experience; it fit me a lot better."

After Leach transferred into the agribusiness major in the Department of Agricultural Economics, she immersed herself in available opportunities. Leach is an undergraduate research scholar.

Her research focuses on the economic impacts of beach closures due to E. coli and harmful algal blooms in Mississippi. Working under Drs. Seong Yun and Ayoung Kim, both assistant professors in agricultural economics and MAFES scientists, the team conducted research in Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson counties. They studied beach closures and county sales data to see the impacts the closures had in the study areas.

"We are in the preliminary stages of the research, and I am compiling and organizing foundational information to present and show how beach closures are negatively impacting these economies," Leach said. "This research project has been a perfect blend of what I love. It has a focus on environmental impact, economic factors, and it is centered around my home, so I am happy to be on this team."

Yun and Kim both lead different sides of this research. Yun heads the environmental damages aspects, while Kim investigates the economic impact throughout the counties. The environmental aspects of the research include determining the frequency of beach closures and the levels of E. coli and harmful algal blooms. The economic impact portion of the study analyzes different sales tax fluctuations during months of beach closures in the three study counties. Each faculty member has helped guide Leach throughout the research and taught her how to improve her skills.

The team concluded that beach closures have a significant impact on the study area, and that this preliminary research is something that needs to be studied for multiple years to grasp how it affects economies and environments. Their findings showed beach closures caused a heterogeneous impact across the counties and industries, meaning each county and industry was affected differently by the continual closures. The data Leach collected set the foundation for future research that will take a larger look at how beach closures affect coastal communities in Mississippi.

"Macy is learning how to deal with all of this data that Dr. Kim and I are compiling," Yun said. "We let her know where the data is coming from, and she collects the raw data to prepare it for analysis. We have been very impressed with how much she has been able to improve her skills."

Kim also spoke to Leach's growth throughout the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program.

"Macy really helped us with organizing and arranging the data and research. Our goal with her, in this research, was to push her to figure out and learn how research is conducted, and we have been impressed with her work and how much she has learned," Kim said.

Leach graduated in May 2022 and plans to move to Wisconsin in August to work as quality manager for a healthcare systems company.

This research was funded by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station's Special Research Initiative and the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program.