OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) – A generous gift from Mississippi music man Jimmy Buffett has not been wasting away on shore. It's been on numerous deployments since it was donated to USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs in June.
"We've been looking for oiled wildlife, birds primarily. Fortunately, we've not seen any at all," said Don Abrams, Volunteer Coordinator with GCRL. "I think Mr. Buffett was very interested in helping out oil wildlife, but we haven't seen any problems here."
So since the beginning of July, the boat has taken on different duties. It's now part of the new GCRL Shoreline Sentinels Program. Several times a week, volunteers take the boat on patrol around the marshes of Ocean Springs and the Biloxi Bay.
"Looking at them from the water side and we're able to put another pair of eyes on them. Something you can't see from the shore," said Abrams.
"Damaged fencing, or booms, things of that nature," said GCRL Shoreline Sentinels Program Coordinator Read Hendon. "There was one instance that they found oil in the marsh all around from Marsh Point."
The 17-foot SWAT boat is designed to navigate around shallows waters where larger Vessels of Opportunity can't reach.
"Bridging the gap between those vessels and the beach walk and cleanup crews that have been walking the beaches," said Hendon.
The volunteers document their observations and report anything that looks unusual along our shores.
"Which allows us to keep a close eye on the marsh habitat and make sure that everything's fine with that and make sure that protective measures are in place and secure," said Hendon.
The boat is also being used by USM faculty and students for marsh research. It's on stand-by to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service respond to any wildlife emergencies. And the Pascagoula River Audubon Center plans to use the boat for future bird surveys.