Research Team Checks Health Of Mississippi Sound

The Mississippi Sound is getting an environmental checkup.

A team of scientists will spend the next three weeks testing the water, the fish and the sediment. It's part of a long term federal project to evaluate the health of coastal waters.

The research vessel headed for a spot just south of USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab. Scientists from the lab are partnered with DEQ to provide a snapshot look at the health of the Sound.

A high tech monitor measures things like dissolved oxygen and salinity.

"Temperature is 29 point eight seven," said one member of the research team, as she took notes of the readings.

A much simpler device measures water clarity. A black and white disc is lowered into the water.

"With the white and black that makes it fairly visible. And you measure the depth at which it just disappears," said David Barnes with the DEQ.

A strange looking contraption takes water samples. The PVC pipe is lowered to a determined depth, where a weight triggers the trap doors.

"The water samples break down into dissolved nutrients, total nutrients, total suspended solids and chlorophyl samples," Barnes explained.

Sediment sampling looks like the most fun research. To the untrained eye, it's akin to playing in the mud. But there's actually tiny living creatures making a home in the mud and muck.

"Things get a little stressful for a fish. He can frequently swim away. These organisms don't have that advantage," said researcher, David Burke.

A ten minute trawl wrapped up the 90 minutes of research. A close up look at crabs, fish and shrimp is the final segment helping measure environmental health.

"Since it's over several years, and done in statistical fashion, you also get an idea if any place is changing and if so how, and then you can start to look into why," said Barnes.

The five year study should give researchers a good look at the overall health of Mississippi coastal waters.

The overall program is called the National Coastal Assessment. Several states are doing similar research. The results will be part of an environmental report from the federal EPA.