The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) helps support three of the larger informal environmental education programs in the Mississippi-Alabama region. Two of these programs are in Alabama and one is in Mississippi. In addition to providing school-based programs, each facility provides a level of public activities.
Discovery Hall Programs for education and outreach, Dauphin Island, Alabama
The Discovery Hall Programs (DHP) at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) in Alabama offers hands-on classes on a variety of marine science topics to K-12 students and teachers during the school year. These classes range from aspects of marine biology and ecology to marine technology and the deep ocean. The programs integrate MASGC’s priorities and focus on the unique nature of the northern Gulf of Mexico and bring the MASGC message to the K-12 audience.
During the summer, DHP switches gears a bit and offers a number of different marine science-focused activities for interested youth. They offer one of the few residential classes in marine science for high school students in the nation, an immersive month-long introduction to marine science with a significant portion of the time spent outside doing, using and seeing, rather than discussing, marine habitats, organisms, equipment, as well as scientific methods and research. They also offer a variety of day and overnight camps for school-age youth. Throughout the year and with the assistance of DISL research faculty, DHP offers professional development workshops on timely issues in marine science for formal and informal educators, several of which are funded by MASGC and can be attended at no cost to the teacher.
DHP’s BayMobile travels to a variety of outreach events throughout the year. While some of these events are K-12 student-centered, many are for the public such as Earth Day events, ShrimpFest, BirdFest, Delta Woods and Waters, Ocean Commotion and Celebrate the Gulf.
DHP also offers a series of field trips for the public during the summer months called Summer Excursions. Interested individuals pay a nominal fee and are escorted by DHP educators to local coastal habitats including the barrier island beach and dune system, the maritime forest and the salt marsh. At each habitat, they learn about the animals and plants of the area, participate in hands-on activities at the site, such as seining, and discuss current research and issues relevant to that habitat.
The Dauphin Island Sea Lab includes the Estuarium, a public aquarium that highlights key habitats of coastal Alabama: It includes the 10,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall, a 7,000-gallon stingray touch pool, and the Living Marsh Boardwalk. This facility has 31 aquariums totaling over 30,000 gallons with more than 100 species on display. The Estuarium showcases the plants, animals and other natural resources found in the estuary and its surrounding marine habitats.
Through beautiful visual exhibits and engaging interactive exhibits, the Estuarium will leave visitors with a broader understanding of the interactions that take place in Mobile Bay, the fourth largest estuary system in the United States.
Throughout the year, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab hosts a number of events on their campus showing their work to the public. On Saturday, Sept. 24, they will be hosting a celebration for National Estuaries Week at the Estuarium. Research faculty, students and educators at the Lab will be on hand to chat about their work and demonstrate some of the animals they are studying and tools they are using. There will also be reduced admission to the Estuarium. Back in June, they hosted a celebration for World Oceans Day! They hold an annual open house each spring known as Discovery Day. The next Discovery Day will be April 8, 2017.
Environmental Studies Center, Mobile, Alabama
As part of the Mobile County Public School System, the Environmental Studies Center (ESC) is a natural sciences education facility designed to provide unique learning experiences. Featuring over 500 acres of rich woodlands, the ESC affords teachers, students, and the general public an opportunity to experience firsthand the natural environment. Natural resources include pine and bay forests, swamps, freshwater streams, carnivorous plant bog and a 20-acre lake. Built resources include numerous nature trails, covered pavilions, live animal exhibits, butterfly garden and native plant garden. Indoor facilities include an auditorium, library, classroom containing live reptile exhibits, a saltwater aquarium, and numerous preserved specimens native to Alabama.
The ESC also houses a wildlife rehabilitation program that is dedicated to the care and potential release of injured and orphaned native wildlife. The wildlife rehabilitation program receives over 600 wild patients a year.
Numerous staff-led programs are available to public, private, and parochial schools. Teachers may choose from programs that are correlated to the Alabama Science Course of Study at each grade level. These programs include animal studies, plant studies, and STARLAB planetarium studies. All programs require advanced reservations and may be subject to group size limitations. Summer camp programs are also available.
Twice a year, the ESC hosts an open house called Environmental Sustainability Fairs, where they open their doors for visits from the general public. This fall’s open house will be November 5.
To schedule a school-group field trip or learn about the upcoming Environmental Sustainability Fair, visit the website for more information.
Marine Education Center, Ocean Springs, Mississippi
The Marine Education Center (MEC) is the education and outreach program of the University of Southern Mississippi School of Ocean Science and Technology (SOST). With a staff of about 15 science educators, it has a 30-year history of providing outdoor environmental education experiences for K-12 and teacher audiences. Housed at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) since Hurricane Katrina destroyed its original aquarium facility in 2005, the MEC has access to six dedicated classroom, science lab classrooms in the Field Studies Building, vessels (including the Miss Peetsy B (25 passengers), the RV Hermes (20 passengers) and the RV Jim Franks (30 passengers)), a library and computer room, and free access to salt marsh, maritime forest, beach, tidal creek and estuarine habitats. In 2017, the MEC will move to a replacement facility that is being constructed according to a carefully developed plan to reduce environmental impact, and thus will become an illustration of sustainable coastal design.
The MEC administers the university-level Summer Field Program in operation since 1947. Other educational offerings at the MEC currently include teacher professional development, environmental education for school groups and undergraduates, and adult/community outreach related to SOST research. A new project funded by NOAA through its Bay Watershed Education and Training Program will engage the educators in designing a problem based group project in classroom and field settings that will enhance climate hazard resilience of the students’ home communities of Pascagoula and Gautier, Mississippi. This project is a collaboration with Pascagoula School District, The Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Mississippi Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.
The GCRL Marine Education Center staff conducts education and outreach activities annually at a variety of local and regional festivals, events, and open houses i.e., Earth Day, seafood festivals, boat shows, mullet festivals, fishing rodeos, beach clean-ups, the Peter Anderson Arts and Crafts Festivals, institutional open houses and other similar special events, usually in the spring and fall.
The MEC offers bayou tours aboard the motor vessel Miss Peetsy B as a field trip for school and community groups. The program consists of two 90-minute periods of instruction, one on the water and the other in the classroom.