OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - It's where education, technology, and nature meet in a seamless fusion. That's the idea behind the brand new Marine Education Center for USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab. The staff welcomed its first field trip to the facility near the Gulf Islands National Seashore Thursday morning.
Students at Pascagoula High School spent the morning taking water samples, dissecting fish, and taking in all the beautiful views the facility has to offer. Included in the Ocean Springs facility is top notch, state-of-the-art technology. The center is also designed to keep the area's natural surroundings in mind.
Officials at USM say the new facility is a replacement of sorts for the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center that was in Biloxi before Hurricane Katrina destroyed it.
"That facility was more of a come-and-see. It was an aquarium-based facility. Then, over the years, moving back here, we really wanted an area that students can come and do," said the center's associate director Sam Clardy. "We wanted to provide a hands-on experience that they couldn't get in the classroom. So we built this facility to where once it was finished, it looks like it had been here forever. We built very lightly into the canopy of the trees and so we're looking forward to using this space for years to come."
The Pascagoula High Schoolers were certainly hands-on during their visit. "It's a great thing for our kids to get out into our ecosystem because a lot of our kids don't get that opportunity," said teacher, Leigh Hanna.
It's an opportunity these students are glad to take advantage of. "On the Gulf Coast, there's so much here, especially with the water. It's a really good place to have a facility just to study everything," said one student.
The students spent time testing water samples pulled straight from Davis Bayou and getting up close and personal with sea life that can be found right in the Mississippi Sound. "It's pretty cool to me, the whole dissection process," said Cameran Wells.
The experience gave these students a better idea of what marine biologists do; a field that Jordan Dubose is looking to get into after high school. "It's very helpful because we don't get to dissect stuff in school, so it's getting a real feel for college and what you'll be doing in labs, and what I would be doing in my profession when I get older," said Dubose.
The Marine Education Center is now open for school groups to book field trips. It is scheduled to be open to the public sometime in April.