Thu 04/07/2022 – 14:37 | By: Van Arnold

The University of Southern Mississippi Marine Education Center (MEC) Summer Camps offer an annual learning adventure on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for students in grades 1-12.

These five-day camps are rich in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities. During the camps, children enjoy hands-on and immersive learning activities in a unique coastal setting. The center is located at the university’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Last year, COVID-19 precautions forced the MEC to offer only three weeks of traditional camp sessions for a limited number of campers (24 per session). Still, the experiment still proved worthwhile, according to MEC director Dr. Jessie Kastler.

“We were so thrilled to be able to offer even the abbreviated selection after having to cancel in 2020 and with COVID still a concern last year,” she said. “It was so successful. We filled all camp sites and a quarter of campers participated through need-based scholarships. Our campers had a great time.

Kastler notes that all camps have benefited immensely from working with USM’s Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD), with campers having many opportunities to interact with scientists to identify different types of sharks from the CFRD’s research collection and learn different techniques for catching fish.

As registrations are in full swing for the 2022 camps, restrictions related to COVID-19 have been lifted. Kastler points out that camp preparation is working back to its traditional capacity. “It’s very normal. In a word – hectic,” she said.

The Sea Camp for grades 1-6 returns for its 35th year with the theme “Ultimate Sea-vivor”. Other popular camps include Shark Fest and Angler Camp for grades 7-12. New this year is the four-day adventure camp for students in grades 4-12.

Spending time outdoors, especially during the summer months, is nothing new for most children. However, the MEC summer camp experience offers many students their first opportunity to spend significant time on the Gulf Coast near bayous, beaches, marshes, and islands.

“For even more children, this is their first time spending time on boats and kayaks actively learning about our coastal environment,” Kastler said. “It’s the only opportunity most have had, and the only opportunity many will ever have, to interact with scientists, collect data and explore how science works.”

MEC 2022 Summer Camps include:

Shaggy’s Fishing Camp (Grades 7-12: June 27-July 1 and July 11-15)

Fishing, fishing, fishing and more fishing by the week. The young fishermen fish every day with an educational team expert in saltwater fishing. Participants explore fish biology and behavior and how weather, wind, moon and tides affect fishing. During the week, anglers will learn how to cast a net to catch bait and target speckled trout, redfish and plaice. Participants will fish a variety of saltwater habitats on board vessels and on islands.

Sharkheads Shark Party (Grades 7-12: June 6-10 and June 13-17)

Spend a week learning all about one of the ocean’s top predators. Shark Fest attendees may encounter sharp, bonnethead, blacktip, spinner, hammerhead, and Atlantic bull sharks. Board shark longline vessels and participate in shark research with our USM scientists by catching, tagging and releasing sharks.

sea ​​camp (Grades 1-6: June 6-10, July 13-17, 27-1, July 11-15, 18-22, 25-29)

Marine Educators provide students with a rich educational experience wrapped in lots of fun, games, and hands-on activities. Participants explore coastal salt marshes with educators aboard the university research vessel, the Miss Peetsy B. Activities include live animal encounters with coastal wildlife and opportunities to fish, crab, seine and sieve. Students will participate in age-appropriate field trips, such as exploring beach habitats.

Island Adventure Camp (Grades 4-12: June 21-14 and July 5-8)

This new camp will take campers to explore the sandy beaches of some of the most important islands in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Campers will learn about island ecology and the geography of the Mississippi Islands. The adventure begins with beach days and swamp tours before heading out later in the week to explore Deer Island and learn about the coastal reserves.

The MEC works through USM Coastal Operations to engage members of the public in ocean science, promote careers, and foster community involvement through formal and informal education programs that provide participants with a better understanding of the gulf.

“The activities are designed to be both fun and good learning experiences, which motivates children to continue learning about their natural environment and some of the ways humans modify the environment,” Kastler said. “With the global environmental changes these children will face as adults, it’s important that they have the chance to learn the excitement of being outdoors and ways to be active stewards without becoming pessimists.”

To learn more about the Marine Education Center and to register for camps and workshops, call 228.818.8095 or visit: https://www.usm.edu/marine-education-center/index.php