Facing the loss of what it estimates is 1,800 acres of valuable fish habitat in the Gulf of Mexico, the Coastal Conservation Association of Mississippi is focusing on opposing the government's ordered removal of derelict oil rigs, a program known as the Idle Iron Directive.

"Saving Essential Fish Habitat " is the subject of a CCA of Mississippi meeting scheduled Wednesday night (June 27) at 6:30 p.m. at the Hansboro Community Center at 1890 Switzer Road in Gulfport.

Wednesday night's meeting will feature Dr. Bob Shipp, Chairman of the Department of Marine Resources at the University of Alabama and an expert in artificial structures. The agenda also includes Capt. Al Walker, the owner of Xtreme Fishing Charters, Towers of Life and Gulf Productions.

The meeting will center on the CCA's attempts to thwart the federally mandated policy, which the conservation group claims was a knee-jerk reaction to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The government is seeking the destruction and removal of about 600 oil rigs in the Gulf.

"We want to focus attention on the adverse impacts to recreational and commercial fisheries as a result of the federal government's Idle Iron Directive, which requires that non-producing oil rig be removed without giving any consideration to the tremendous loss of marine habitat that will result," said CCA event organizer John Marquez of Biloxi.  "One of the unintended consequences of drilling offshore has been that these rigs have turned into one of the largest artificial reef systems in the world.

"The federal government's own estimates are that the average four-pole rig jacket (the underwater structure that supports the rig) contains two to three acres of living habitat that supports thousands of fish. The Idle Iron policy will require the removal of nearly 600 rigs, and will result in a loss of 1,200 to 1,800 acres of live hard-bottom habitat."

The CCA has earned the support of Mississippi Congressman Steve Palazzo, who along with Louisiana's Sen. David Vitter penned the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act that is part of the Sportsman Act of 2012. The Sportsman Act is an amendment to the 2012 Farm Act.

If passed, the Reefs Habitat Protection Act would require the Department of Interior to coordinate with relevant federal and state agencies and accredited marine research institutes to assess the biodiversity and critical habitat present at platforms and related structures subject to removal, and assess the potential impacts of their removal.

"The act raises the visibility of an issue that is of great importance to recreational anglers," said Pat Murray, president of CCA National. "…Something has to be done to make the federal government realize it is making a horrible mistake destroying this valuable habitat."