GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - An exploration vessel will set sail Sunday morning to continue its study of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill's impact on corals in the Gulf of Mexico. On Friday, hundreds of people were invited to the Port of Gulfport to meet the research team and see the technology.
As the Nautilus prepared to launch the next leg of its expedition, nearly 200-members of the Boys and Girls Clubs walked on deck to see how the remotely operated vehicles are used for deep sea research. They even got to build and test their own miniature ROVs.
"I feel so amazing, because I like to see all these beautiful things out here and learn more about science, because I love science," said nine-year-old Chris King.
Education outreach is one of the many missions of the Nautilus.
"We're certainly not nerds on this ship. We're involved in times fairly dangerous operations. So we're able to use the excitement of our exploration and technology to reach out to an amazing number of kids," said Oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard.
Ballard founded the "Ocean Exploration Trust," which owns the Nautilus. He is most known for discovering the wreck of the Titanic in 1985.
"We want to make discoveries, and we do that by spending a lot of time underwater and going where no one has ever been," said Ballard.
The ROV pilots, marine scientists, and engineers will now head to the Gulf of Mexico. They will return to the site of the BP oil spill to track the impact of the disaster on the coral colonies. Some colonies are the size of several football fields.
"In some cases, the corals were so heavily hit by the spill that the colonies died entirely and the animals attached to them died as well. In other cases, only part of the colonies died and those are the ones we're really trying to follow carefully to see whether, in fact, they will recover long term or whether they're lost," said Penn State University Biology Professor Dr. Charles Fisher.
Learning about the scientific missions and technology may inspire the future ocean explorers.
"It really was amazing. They get to go underwater so deep and look at stuff that we won't probably get to see," said nine year old Kendra Keyes.
"It was really cool, because I want to be marine biologist when I grow older. So being able to see this and experience the boat and the submarines and how to work them and stuff like that, it was eye awakening. I really want to do this now," said 17-year-old Donte Benoit.
The Nautilus will spend two weeks in the Gulf. The research is called ECOGIG, and it is part of the $500 million Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative funded by BP.