Pascagoula Researchers Say New Lab Is An Improvement

Studying sea life is nothing for South Mississippi scientists, but now some of them have a new place to do their work. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, just built a new laboratory in Pascagoula.

"I'm cutting it open so that I can see whether it is a male or a female," Marine Biologist Kim Johnson says as she dissects a fish.

Imagine doing Kim Johnson's job outside in the summer heat.

"It was painful, we'd try to get here at 6 o'clock in the morning to beat noon," Johnson sighs.

Johnson's job isn't just to cut fish open. She studies sea life for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Johnson said primitive conditions often threatened the accuracy of the research she was doing.

"We would have pencil markings and wet marks and it would de-frag some of the information," Johnson adds.

Those mistakes should be a thing of the past. NOAA built researchers an indoor complex, equipped with state of the art technology.

"We have an electronic weighing scale that's motion compensating. So that when we are at sea with the waves and the action of the ship rolling, the scale electronically compensates for that variability and gives us an accurate weight," Marine Research Biologist Butch Pellegrin says.

Pellegrin says all of this is needed because the information they come up with helps determine how many fish are in the gulf and how many fish you're allowed to take home.

"There's a lot of controversy over red snapper right now because the stock is over-fished, so we are studying it really closely to bring the stocks to good health," Pellegrin adds.

Making sure healthy fish are in the gulf is a main focus of this research team. Now they can focus in a much more controlled environment. The new facility opened Tuesday. It will also house the administration offices for the ship crews that support NOAA's research.

Officials say having a central location will help the scientists and ship crews work together.