Dozens of students got a hands-on experience with marine life at a summer camp offered by the Institute for Marine Mammal Study in Gulfport.
The summer camp, the only one of its kind on the Gulf Coast, offers children ages 6 to 14 the opportunity to dive into a world of seining, sieving and beachcombing, and many other learning activities centered on the Gulf of Mexico and its ecosystem.
Campers this year got to ride on the IMMS pontoon boat to fish and crab, as well as go to the beach and Ship Island. Throughout the week, kids learned how to take and test water samples, properly clean animals after an oil spill and prepare for coastal hazards such as hurricanes. They also learned about littering and its effects on the aquatic world.
The institute offers scholarships to under-served and under-represented children, specifically children of minority and low-income families. So far, 175 partial scholarships have been given out. Businesses such as Shaggy's in Pass Christian are working with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs to provide more.
"Our goal is to increase children's awareness and understanding of the marine and aquatic environment," said the institute's Sharon Walker. "If they can enhance their understanding and realize how the water is relevant to all of us, no matter where they live, we are empowering them to make better environmental decisions when they are older."
Walker said seeing the effects of litter or preparing for a hurricane allows kids to "realize that they can make a difference and that their behavior can change the environment."
"If we're talking to them about oil pollution, for example, we talk about what oil is, make something that looks like oil, and then put it on a plastic sea turtle and teach them to clean it just like we did during last year's oil spill.