Steve's Blog: Reporter enjoys speed boat and seagrass adventures

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - I've got speed boats and sea grass on my mind this week. Both topics relate to stories I had the pleasure of reporting.

As I've written before, I'm always first in line whenever there's a chance to do "boat stories." And it so happened this was a banner week for such outdoor reporting.

I had my fingers crossed Monday morning and my eye on the weather radar. That's the day I was scheduled to take a ride on the new U.S. Customs and Border Protection interceptor speed boat.

Rain in the forecast delivered some fairly significant scattered showers that morning. In fact, it was raining heavily when I pulled into the Gulfport Harbor.

I was thankful when I saw the federal agents in their rain gear and figured we'd do the story, even if we couldn't take a ride in the Mississippi Sound.

But time was on my side that morning.  By the time our appointed press availability arrived, there was suddenly a welcome break in the weather. Rain stopped.

The 43 foot demonstration boat looked like something out of a movie or TV show featuring high speed chases on the high seas.

My hosts were all quite knowledgeable about the boat, pointing out its vast array of electronics gear and other equipment.

Suffice it to say, when I saw four 350 horsepower engines on the back of this boat, I knew this baby was more than capable of chasing down the quickest criminals at sea.

We slowly motored out of the Gulfport Harbor, entering a Mississippi Sound with a moderate chop due to the inclement weather.

I should have known these federal agents have a "need for speed" from the way they asked me if I was ready to see how fast the boat could run.

And of course, the macho answer was "Let's check it out."

As the massive outboard horsepower suddenly roared to life, I found myself with a death grip on my camera. My boss would be glad to know I was more interested in protecting the gear than in worrying about myself flying off the vessel at top speed.

It was the wildest ride I've ever had on the water. And, as you know, I've done lots of boat stories.

We hit a top speed of around 70 miles an hour, which doesn't sound like much on the speedway that is I-10, but is something memorable when you're flying over the choppy waves of the sound in a 43 foot speedboat.

I kept envisioning the boat suddenly doing a death flip and me losing my death grip on the camera. Just as I was contemplating my mortality, the driver backed off on the throttle and we bounced back down to reality.

We tried it again, and the second time I felt compelled to use the seat belt. (I didn't know it was there the first ride, and one of the agents said he had my back.)

Anyway, thumbs up to the border protection agents. I feel sorry for the illegal immigrants or drug smugglers or anyone else who threatens our borders at sea. They'll have to deal with the awesome speed and high tech prowess of the Interceptor. I feel safer knowing that boats like that and agents like these folks are patrolling the shores.

Seagrass was a much more laid back affair.

I visited the Grand Bay Estuarine Research Reserve in Jackson County, near the Alabama state line.

Researchers from Jackson State University have been studying seagrass for the past several years. I accompanied them on one of their many survey visits within the 18,000 acre reserve.

If I had it to do over again, I might consider majoring in marine biology or some marine science.  I find the field (and the work environment) most fascinating and appealing.

These scientists were snorkeling the waters of Grand Bay, feeling the seagrass and recording the vital information on underwater notebooks. (Yes, they do make underwater paper.)

Why should you care about seagrass surveys?  For starters, the submerged seagrass plays a pivotal role in helping protect the shoreline from wave action caused by storms and hurricanes.

It also provides valuable nursery areas for fish and other marine creatures.

Finally, it helps create clear water. The root systems of the seagrass absorb nutrients in the waters and promote water clarity.

These young researchers were clearly enjoying their job. I admire their passion and I'm glad they're doing research that can help us find ways to better the planet and improve the very places we live, work and recreate.

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