Summer campers enjoy Ocean Expo sea camp - - The News for South Mississippi

Summer campers enjoy Ocean Expo sea camp


By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport is hosting a summer camp for children this week. Students enrolled in the Ocean Expo program are learning about oysters and osprey; crabs and croakers.

Excited six-year-olds prepared to launch Tuesday morning from the dock behind the institute.

"This is my first time being on a boat!" said one young boy, anxious to get on the water.

The pontoon boat headed toward the open waters of Biloxi Bay.  First learning station:  The marsh.

"This is called cord grass. And it's one of two of our most common kinds of marsh grasses. And it's really important for baby fish to grow in. Baby crabs. It's a nursery area," said Dr. Sharon Walker, as she grabbed a handful of grass to show the children.

A red winged blackbird found a perch atop the grasses. So did a long-legged insect.

"Look at that grasshopper!" shouted one youngster.

"That's the curlew. Can you all say curlew?" said one adult educator, as she pointed to pictures in a bird book, "See how long its beak is?"

Once the boat reached an artificial reef, it was time for fishing poles and crab traps.

"We want you to try and touch them, but we're catch and release. So, we're going to take everything and put it back in the water," said Dr. Walker.

"See the hole right there? See the hole?" said the educator, hoisting a crab trap,"They climb into the hole and they can't climb out. So, that's how we catch 'em in these crab pots."

"You all remember: We're crabbing on the port side and we're fishing on the starboard side," Dr. Walker reminded the kids.

"Mr. Ray is showing you how to put the shrimp on the hook."

"Yeah, so they can do it themselves next time," the volunteer added.

It doesn't take long to catch a croaker.

"Can I touch him? He's slimy," said the excited children.

After another croaker is caught, Carter reels in the biggest fish of the day.

"That's a black drum. Big black drum!" Dr. Walker explained.

Moments after Carter's drum, Caleb is the lucky one. He reels in a nice ground mullet.

But croakers are still king on this trip.

"Be gentle. Feel him?  You hear him?  Don't squeeze him," said the adult educator, as kids scrambled to pet the fish.

Along with a variety of fish, one youngster reels in a piece of concrete reef.

"And they put these in the water cause they want oysters to settle on them. So you see, that's a little oyster. There's another baby oyster," Dr. Walker explained, as she pointed to the new oysters.

Once the fishing poles are picked up, a lesson in water clarity awaits.  A weighted disc is used by scientists to test turbidity.

"That's how clear the water is. If you were swimming underwater, you would be able to see that far in front of you, very clearly," she explained.

After a two hour adventure on the water, it's also clear that this is one fun and informative summer sea camp.

A total of 88 youngsters participated in this week's Ocean Expo summer camp. Along with the pontoon boat trip, other activities included a trip to the beach and some classroom experiments and exhibits.

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