Master naturalist students study on Deer Island

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

DEER ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - They talked about marsh grasses, jellyfish and coastal erosion. Those were among the topics covered by 15 adult students who spent Thursday morning on Deer Island.

They're enrolled in a program to make them Mississippi "master naturalists."

"So, this is sea oats. It is protected," said Dr. Sheila Brown, as she led 15 adult students on a Deer Island field trip.

"Sea oats happen to be one of the plants that the tourists and florists want to take home," she told the group.

This excursion to the near shore island is part of a program that will help these students become certified "master naturalists."

"Talk about all the natural resources and why we need to protect them. So, today we're talking about the marine resources. A great course to highlight all the diversity we have here in South Mississippi and also in Mississippi in general," said program coordinator Chris Boyd.

A jellyfish washed ashore becomes an instant exhibit. Students learned the Portuguese man of war is actually a cluster of living things.

"And their sole job is to collect the food and digest the food and initiate the distribution," said Dr. Brown, pointing to one section of jellyfish.

The dozen plus students enrolled in this master naturalist are as diverse as the island environment.  They include retirees, college students and master gardeners. All share a love of the outdoors.

"Seeing plants and animals and understanding the inter relationship that they have with humanity. It's kind of like we're part of it," said William Michael Hawkins.

"We can actually tell that the water was farther up," said Dr. Brown, pointing toward a fresh water lagoon.

Students learn more about the unique natural resources on the island and the equipment that helps monitor the environment.

A "refractometer" measures salinity.

"The more salt that's in there, the more refraction as the light goes through this little glass into that prism. It's refracted," she said, demonstrating the tube like device.

The Deer Island excursion is among 40 hours of studies these students need to qualify as "master naturalists." Along with their 40 hours of study, the "master naturalist" students are also required to complete 40 hours of volunteer service.

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