HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Hundreds of Harrison County students have joined a unique partnership, aimed at protecting a popular waterway right in their own backyard. They are working with federal and state scientists to study the health of Turkey Creek.
The students are only in the eighth grade, yet, the young students are getting to work side-by-side with scientists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This year, the EPA teamed up with North Gulfport Eighth Grade School to conduct testing on Turkey Creek and surrounding neighborhoods that drain into it.
Every week, more than 500 science students take turns measuring the stream height, recording the pH and salinity levels, and collecting water samples.
"I got to experience something I never did before. It's actually life changing," said eighth grader Aniyah Oliver.
"It's very interesting to learn how they do things. The technology they use and the procedures they do," said eighth grader Zachary Eleuterius.
The samples are taken back to the school where they are tested for bacteria and other creatures that call the creek home.
"I didn't expect to see leeches there," said Eleuterius.
"This is one of the ways we can work together on STEM activities and get kids back outside and into nature and connect with their community, connect with their watershed Turkey Creek," said Dr. Troy Pierce, chief scientist for the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program.
On Tuesday, the students also learned about the native plants that eat insects, water filtration systems and how pollution in Turkey Creek can end up in the Gulf of Mexico.
"If I go down to Turkey Creek and I want to swim or something like that, then I want to know what's in the water," said eighth grader Gino Johnson.
The experimental partnership has given the students a deeper appreciation of the waterway, so they can learn to take better care of it.
"If you drive over a bridge every day, you may not think about it. But when you're down in the creek and you see the signs of the animals that are using the creek, the fish that are in the creek, sometimes, you might see where people dumped garbage in the creek. As a young person, you think why is that happening? How can I make a difference?" said Pierce.
The opportunity has also opened the students' eyes to future careers in science and math.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Land Trust for Mississippi Coastal Plain are also partners in the program. The data collected by the students will be used by a steering committee to make decisions regarding the protection of the Turkey Creek watershed.