A scientist pointed to some computer images and said, "This is from 1,500 feet below the ocean floor". She then allowed the Gulfport Central Middle School students to touch the coral she helped collect from the Gulf of Mexico.
Sheila Brown coordinated the student tour aboard the NOAA research vessel "Ronald Brown".
"It's very important for them not only to learn about cutting edge science that's taking place right now, science that doesn't show up in their textbooks, but also it's important that they come aboard this ship, and see what was involved in a cruise like this," she said.
The crew members just returned from a trip exploring marine habitat thousands of feet under the sea. They collected the specimens and images, using a Remotely Operated Vehicle.
"It basically flies just like a helicopter. It's able to hover, go back, forth, up, right, and supports on its axis," one crew member explained.
Seventh Grader Jamie Benny said, "We learned how they test animals and how they suck them up in there, and they take them to the wet room and she classifies them".
Her classmate Stacy Brown said, "We got to see how the ships go out in the Gulf of Mexico and pick up fish and different kinds of organisms and stuff. I thought it was very cool".
While they were experiencing marine life up-close, the students were also discovering the different careers aboard the floating laboratory.
"We're hoping to inspire some of them to be outstanding scientists, to become techs and not only that, see what's all involved because it's not only science in the technical aspect to get something like this going," Brown said.
The "Ronald Brown" is based in Charleston, South Carolina. The ship will leave the Port of Gulfport on Sunday. Its next mission is to survey a wreck of a World War Two German Submarine 5,000 feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico.