GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - They spent hours in the woods and water this past week, helping inventory nature on the Pascagoula River. College students in Jackson County took part in Bioquest 2014.
They're learning about the unique diversity of life that exists along the river.
"Again, the fish will find their way into those funnels but can't find their way out," said Michael Murphy, with the Nature Conservancy, as he pointed toward a fyke net. "So, if we have anything, it will be trapped in the back."
"Oh my goodness, Michael," said Dr. Mark LaSalle, as he and a student helped empty the net which managed to catch several fish and crabs.
"We didn't catch anything yesterday, but looks like we did pretty good this morning," said Murphy.
Among the catch was a prehistoric looking gar.
"It makes for a very tough fish, but it limits their mobility," said Murphy.
"Beautiful fish. If you want to feel what we're talking about, you can feel the skin," said instructor Michael Carley.
Also in the net, a more common blue crab.
"Blue crabs are swimming crabs. They have these paddles on their hind appendages that enable them to swim," Carley explained as he held a small crab overhead.
The students have spent the past few days in the woods and water, documenting all sorts of plants and wildlife.
"So, y'all are really helping us to get that inventory going so that we can continue to engage people and continue to build that list. So, how long you think it's going to take to count every living thing on the river?" asked LaSalle, who directs the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.
He reminded the students, it's much more about the journey than the destination.
"During the excavation, we collected animal scat samples and photographs of animal tracks we observed," said one student as she presented a report on what they surveyed.
Such forays into the marsh can get messy.
"I was stuck good. I lost my shoes probably two or three times," said Natasha Gilbert, a student who waded through the muck to check the fish nets.
Still, Gilbert and her fellow students enjoyed their discoveries.
"Everything's different. You never know from one minute to the next what you're going to get. So, yeah, it was fun," Gilbert said.
"What you see in here now is mostly loblolly and slash pine," said Carley as he led students on a learning walk through the woods. "They're difficult to tell apart."
LaSalle says educating these young people about the beauty and bio-diversity of the river system will make them more likely to help protect and preserve it.