MGCCC students participate in bioquest at the Estuarine Education Center

Emily Nguyen discusses the scat and other animal leavings they found during the bioquest.

Emily Nguyen, an Honors Biology student at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jackson County Campus, discusses her findings during the final day of a bioquest at the campus’s Estuarine Education Center. Biology and zoology students at the campus spent a week helping the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and its partners conduct the bioquest as part of the Pascagoula River Biodiversity Inventory.

Biology and zoology students at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jackson County Campus spent a week helping the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and its partners conduct a bioquest as part of the Pascagoula River Biodiversity Inventory.  The inventory is an ongoing effort to document all living things on the Pascagoula River.

Bioquests, such as the one conducted April 8-11 at the Estuarine Education Center on MGCCC’s Jackson County Campus, are focused searches for organisms within a given area that contribute to the documentation of flora and fauna.  Teams of scientists worked with the students to collect organisms and catalog them.  On Friday, the public was invited to join the students and scientists to watch presentations and learn about the collection methods concerning the biodiversity of the area.

Students made presentations about what local animals eat based on scat found in the area.  Others documented prints made by animals along the EEC’s nature trail.  Some students helped trap and catch fish that were identified, measured and weighed for cataloging.

Diane Ehrman, whose Honors Biology classes participated in the bioquest, said the program allows students to participate alongside scientists in conducting fieldwork.  “This week students got hands-on experience doing what biologists do,” she said. “They were very excited about it, and many of them have become enthusiastic about careers in biology.  It also teaches them an appreciation for the environment that they may not have had before.  This is something I hope we can participate in every year.”

Dr. Mark LaSalle, director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, discussed the variety of birds in the area, some of which nest in the Pascagoula River region and others that migrate through the area.  He also talked about the variety of habitats in the campus area, from wetlands to forests.  “One of the reasons we see such a tremendous variety of animals along the river area is because of this land diversity.  Some animals like the water while others like sandy areas.  Still others like the deep forests. You have all of that right here on campus.”

LaSalle said the Audubon Center works with a wide range of partners to highlight the value of the unique river and to inspire people to ensure continued conservation of its rich natural heritage.  “Young people like the ones participating in this bioquest are key to maintaining that heritage and an appreciation of this environment,” he said.  “We hope to continue working with the college and students to catalog more birds, wildlife and their habitats in the area around the Jackson County Campus and along Mary Walker Bayou.”

For more information about this project, contact Dr. Mark LaSalle at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center at 228.475.0825; visit the center’s website at http://pascagoulariver.audubon.org, or contact David Blackledge, MGCCC Estuarine Education Center director, at 228.497.7738 or david.blackledge@mgccc.edu.

Michael Murphy with the Nature Conservancy holds a fish that he is helping students categorize for the bioquest.

Michael Murphy, program manager with the Nature Conservancy in Jackson County, demonstrates how to identify, measure and weigh fish that were capture in a trap as part of the bioquest at MGCCC’s Jackson County Campus. Murphy was one of the scientists helping MGCCC students as part of the Pascagoula River Diversity Inventory.

 

Kathy McAdams is an award-winning journalist who has worked at weekly newspapers in Mississippi and the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala. A native of Gulfport, McAdams attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, William Carey University, the University of South Alabama and The University of Southern Mississippi. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and journalism and a master's degree in education and English. She has worked at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College since 2005.