Sea Camp - 25 Years of Fun and Education

Over the past 25 years, GCRL’s Sea Camp has become a summer tradition on the Coast.  Since 1989, more than 12,000 students have enjoyed this fun and educational program. During its life, Sea Camp has evolved to be more than an educational experience; it’s also become a family affair. Many of today’s students are the children of former Sea Campers. Other Sea Camp students have returned as staff members and then gone on to complete college degrees in marine sciences and become scientists and educators themselves.

Sea Camp is designed to foster an awareness and understanding of the coast’s fragile marine and aquatic environments in children ages 6 to 13. Campers learn about coastal stewardship through both classroom and field experiences.  Hands-on experience such as crabbing, fishing, seining, and sieving bring these valuable lessons to life for the campers.

This year’s theme is Ocean Conservation. On trips to local beaches, marshes, and Ship Island students will explore all aspects of the Gulf of Mexico and the creatures that live there. Educational art projects are used to reinforce the marine science lessons. These experiences educate children in ocean literacy and environmental stewardship, and connect them to the research conducted by GCRL.

Sea Camp was born in 1989 at GCRL’s J.L. Scott Marine Education Center & Aquarium in Biloxi. The Center housed Mississippi's largest public aquarium and featured many marine educational programs. Like many other coast landmarks, the Marine Education Center was lost to the winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.  By the next summer, the Marine Education Center and Sea Camp had found a new home on the campus of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs. The new location has the advantages of a large campus with live oaks, a cafeteria, a pier for fishing and learning to throw a cast net, and dozens of scientists nearby. Without skipping a beat after Katrina, Sea Camp continues to provide all the wonderful educational programming for which it is known.

Sam Clardy, Coordinator of Educational Programs, says, "Sea Camp is a great avenue to introduce young people to the rich diversity of coastal habitats and life found along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a fun and hands-on learning experience. Sea Camp is not only creating more knowledgeable environmental stewards but it is also helping form our future scientists.” Sea Camp’s present director, Summer Rohe, is a past student of the Marine Education Center’s undergraduate field program for college students. Her experiences here as an undergraduate provide her with a different perspective on the value of Sea Camp. “My favorite thing about sea camp is when you're teaching students and they get that ‘aha’ moment and you know they truly understand the message you are trying to convey.”

Just as our Sea Campers have grown and are now raising Sea Campers of their own, Sea Camp has spawned a new camp geared toward older campers aged 12 to 18 -  Shark Fest. The focus is on sharks and the shark research done at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. Campers visit shark fishing hotspots around the barrier islands aboard a research vessel, catching and tagging sharks to contribute to scientific research. 

The Shark Fest day camp, currently in its third year, enjoyed such a phenomenal introduction in the summer of 2011 that the camp had to be expanded from three sessions to five. With such a positive beginning, we are sure to see Shark Fest celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary as well.