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Released September 15, 2003

NEW SCOTT AQUARIUM PROGRAMS INCLUDE
SHARK ENCOUNTERS, MARINE HABITATS

BILOXI - From hands-on shark encounters to trawling for fish species in the Mississippi Sound, Scott Aquarium educators are launching the academic year this week with new learning experiences at The University of Southern Mississippi facility here.

New adventures with marine habitats, creatures of the sea and shore and marine technology are on the agenda for students and teachers through three revamped programs: the Project Marine Discovery half-day field trips to the Aquarium, two- and three-day student mini-camps and teacher workshops.

"As one part of the new shark activity for the PMD field trip program, we have illuminated shark egg cases in one of our small tanks in the aquarium area," educator Jennifer Hale said. "That way our students and visitors can see the living baby shark along with its egg yolk sac. Right now each one looks like a tiny shark about two inches long. Regular visitors will notice that the yolk sac depletes as the shark grows."

When the sharks hatch in about two weeks, more egg cases will go on display. Sharks of the same species will also go on display and give visiting students a chance to touch a living shark. The small species is the Indo-Pacific bamboo cat shark, also known as the black-banded cat shark.

The world of plankton and a coral reef room will also greet all grade levels participating in the half-day programs. Lower grades will experience fish adaptations through art as a fourth activity while older students join educators in the aquarium area to get acquainted with Gulf of Mexico species and the issues that affect the health of gulf animals and environments.

"Our educators have been enthusiastic about putting together new experiences for student groups who visit the aquarium," Dr. Sharon H. Walker, Scott Aquarium administrator, said. "They have done an excellent job of making the 'wow' of ocean science accessible to all ages."

For teachers who want more than a half day for their students, registration is now open for a variety of new student mini-camps in the fall and spring.

"We are still offering our popular beach and barrier island adventures, and we have added new mini-camps on wetlands, birding and fisheries," Walker said.

The beach and barrier island program takes students into the environment of a local mainland beach and an offshore barrier island for firsthand encounters with living sea creatures.

The wetlands experience involves canoeing bayous, exploring pine savannas and swamps, working in a freshwater pond ecosystem and collecting plants typical of coastal wetlands. The birding mini-camp will include field trips to the coast's natural preserves to study habitats and adaptations of migratory species and birding basics, including identification.

The fisheries mini-camp is an introduction to the real-world issues involved in ensuring a sustainable fishery.

"Among the experiences for students are trawling for samples of fish species aboard a vessel in the Mississippi Sound and visiting a local aquaculture operation," Walker said.

The mini-camps are open for groups of students ages 8 years and older. Teachers may choose one of the four different mini-camps in either a two- or three-day format.

New workshops are also on tap for teachers on a range of topics in October and November. They offer the opportunity to earn continuing education units and come with various levels of scholarship support by sponsoring agencies. Upcoming workshops are Oct. 3, Ocean Exploration on cold seeps and methane habitats; Oct. 28, Storm Water; Oct. 22-24, Aquatic Nuisance Species; Oct. 29-31, Aquatic Nuisance Species in Wetlands; Nov. 22-23, Marine Biotechnology.

All programs are by preregistration. For more information or to register for group or teacher programs, educators may contact the Scott Aquarium at (228) 374-5550 or scott.aquarium@usm.edu.

The J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium is part of the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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