Take a Boat Ride During Gautier’s Earth Day Event Saturday

The City of Gautier will host its annual Earth Day Celebration this Saturday, April 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at George Martin City Park.

Eco-Tours of South Mississippi will be providing free boat rides on the Pascagoula River during the City of Gautier Earth Day event at George Martin City Park on Saturday, April 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

During the event, Captain Kathy Wilkinson, owner of Eco-Tours of South Mississippi, will offer free 30-minute rides up the Mary Walker Bayou. They have been part of the event since opening Eco-Tours in 2006. The boat rides are popular during the Earth Day event and give families that may not have the opportunity to get out on the water a chance to do so.

“We do not charge for the event as it is our way of giving a little something back to our community,” Wilkinson said. “We enjoy the opportunity to take locals out, as most of our guests on our tours are from out-of-town.”

The tours during the event are shortened versions of the tours Wilkinson regularly gives. According to Wilkinson, they tell guests about the flora and fauna they see, the ecosystems, local history and culture, wetlands and conservation, and stewardship and volunteerism while enjoying the views along the way.

“While it is educational, it is also fun, and we see some pretty cool things out on the river,” she said. “We started the business because we are passionate about the river and thought people might be interested in learning about the Pascagoula River. We have taken out visitors from all over the world, in addition to locals.”

For more information, you can visit www.ecotoursofsouthmississippi.com or visit the Eco-Tours of South Mississippi Facebook page.

 

 

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Spring Migration in Full Swing Along the Coast

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Have you noticed an influx of bright blue birds at your bird feeders over the last week? Is your seed disappearing at a faster rate than usual? Does a chorus of bird song wake you early in the morning?

Spring migration is upon us, and birds such as the Indigo Bunting, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, and a wide variety of vividly-colored warblers are arriving from their winter homes in the tropical regions of Central and South America. Most of them will stay a few days to refuel after traveling across the Gulf; consuming seeds, fruit, insects, and anything that they can find before continuing north to their summer breeding territories in the northern United States and Canada.

 

This year has had weather conditions conducive to a “fall out” where exhausted and hungry migrating birds hit bad weather and drop onto the nearest land that they encounter, frequently barrier islands or coastal shorelines. If you see tiny songbirds resting on the sand or boardwalks, you can guess that they just finished a long distance flight across the Gulf and are simply too tired to move.

Over the next few weeks, birds will continue arrive with southern winds, heading to all points north. The Pascagoula River Basin is home to more than 320 species of birds during the year, many of whom only visit for a few critical weeks during their spring and fall long distance journeys.

Our resident birds, birds that spend the year along the Gulf, are already well into their breeding season. You may see osprey and eagles carrying nest material or food, fuzzy Great Horned Owl chicks practicing their first flights, or have a brood of Eastern Bluebirds or Carolina Wrens chirping inside a bird box.

To attract and enjoy more backyard birds, there are a few simple things that you can do.

  1. Create a feeding station with seed feeders that contain black oil seed (sunflower or safflower seed) and thistle or niger seed
  2. Scatter mixed seed (with millet and other seeds) on the ground beneath feeders
  3. Add hummingbird feeders with sugar water (4 parts water, 1 part sugar, no food coloring added)
  4. Give them a shallow bird bath for water and for them to clean their feathers after their long flights
  5. Plant native flowers, shrubs, trees, and vines that provide both food and shelter
  6. Reduce the potential for collision with your windows by adding bird tape, streamers, or partially closing blinds to break up the impression of open space to birds in flight
  7. Keep cats indoors or (at  a minimum) add bells to their collars
  8. Add a nest box with a predator guard installed to help cavity nesting birds
  9. Enjoy watching your colorful feathered visitors and appreciate your ability to observe one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena – spring migration!
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The University of Southern Mississippi Opens Marine Education Center

The Marine Education Center (MEC) at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Cedar Point teaching site in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, serves as the education and outreach arm of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

Situated on 100 acres, the new facility provides an immersion experience for participants in a unique, coastal setting. Included in the new facility are public exhibits, laboratories and meeting spaces, as well as outdoor learning experiences featuring trails, outdoor and floating classrooms, and a pedestrian suspension bridge. Through its broad array of programs, the MEC offers both students and the public an understanding of how the Gulf of Mexico affects daily life and provides a science-based understanding of ecosystem health. School groups in Coastal Science Camps, students seeking research experience, teachers pursuing professional development, and community volunteers and citizen-scientists will all benefit from the facility.

The MEC replaces the J. L. Scott Marine Education Center in Biloxi, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and is wind- and flood-resilient and energy-efficient, serving as an example of sustainable and effective coastal building techniques in harmony with its coastal environment.

This $16.1 million comp lex was constructed primarily with funding from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, administered by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Outdoor trails were made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Gulf Coast Nature Heritage Area; the outdoor kitchen was made possible by Blossman Gas. The MEC was designed by Lake Flato Architects and constructed by Starks Contracting Co., Inc.

Learn more at http://gcrl.usm.edu/mec/

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Under the Sea Super Saturday Set This Weekend

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The Pascagoula-Gautier School District will host its Under the Sea Super Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, April 14, 2018 at the Aaron Jones Family Interactive Center. The event is open free to the public, rain or shine. All children must be accompanied by an adult.

Featured exhibitors will be the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, USM Marine Education Center, Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, Mississippi Coast Fly Fisher, The Nature Conservancy, Pascagoula Recreation Center, Girl Scouts and Excel by 5.

All of the themed rooms will be open for play including Wetland Animals, Pirate Ship, Main Street, Toddler Town, block room, virtual reality, flight simulator room, planetarium, iMac lab, miniature golf and the playground.

The center is located at 1415 Skip St., Pascagoula. For more information, call Kelli McCorkle, at 228-938-6418.

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Spring Arts Festival: Herb, Garden & Art

The annual Spring Arts Festival in downtown Ocean Springs celebrated its 25th year last weekend. Over 150 vendors participated and, while the numbers are still being calculated, it is estimated to have had around 15,000 visitors. The event is looked forward to each year by festival-goers from near and far as well as the local gardening and art communities.

“We are so proud of the amazing turnout of 150 vendors and Nearly 15,000 visitors this year.  The turnout numbers are still being calculated. The weather was amazing and our community and visitors alike were able to get out and find unique arts, crafts and get their green thumb ready for Spring! -We were excited to introduce new vendors and a variety of demonstrations.” ~ Cynthia Dobbs Sutton, Ocean Springs Chamber – Mainstreet – Tourism Bureau

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Pay It Forward Friday: Wild at Heart Rescue

Wild at Heart Rescue is a non-profit wildlife rescue right here in Jackson County. Through rescue and rehabilitation they help injured, sick, or orphaned animals native to Mississippi. When possible, the animals are returned to their natural habitat once they become healthy enough.

When an animal cannot be returned to the wild, whether for legal reasons or for the benefit of the animal, Wild at Heart takes care of that animal for the rest of its life. For example, they have pigeons that have been with them for twenty years because legally, they are not native to Mississippi. 

Wild at Heart Rescue welcomes all animals in need, no matter the species. They care for all types of mammals, birds, and reptiles. 

They became famous for a viral photo of an owl hugging a man. When her caregiver went out of town for a few days, it was obvious that GiGi the owl missed him. When he returned, she spread her wings to give him a hug! 

The rescuers work tirelessly to help all of their residents, and they get more rescues every day. Their daily routine includes cleaning out the pens and making sure everyone is fed properly. For some animals, this can be very expensive. For example, buying rats to feed the owls is quite costly. Medical care for the animals comes at a high price as well. In addition to the care they provide each day, they stay on call to rescue animals whenever and wherever the need arises.

To continue the selfless work they do for animals in need, Wild at Heart depends on donations from caring people like you. Support their mission by donating at www.paypal.me/WildatHeartRescueInc.

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Here are the Final Numbers on November’s Mississippi Coastal Cleanup

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The 2017 Mississippi Coastal Cleanup brought in more than 1,700 volunteers to help pick up trash at 40 locations along the coastline. Although the event is typically held in October each year, the cleanup was pushed back to November 18th due to Hurricane Nate.

Volunteers of all ages picked up more than 13 tons of trash along 200 miles of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Out of all the trash collected, 77% of it was plastic. And the most common item picked up- cigarette butts. Over 48,000 cigarette butts were collected with over 12,000 food wrappers coming in second.

The cleanup is a partnership between the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Debris Task Force. It is a part of the International Coastal Cleanup and is one of the largest volunteer efforts in all of Mississippi. Since 1988, thousands of volunteers gather in the fall to remove millions of pounds of trash from Mississippi’s coastline, waterways, and barrier islands. Additionally, these volunteers help collect data that are used to categorize the major sources of marine debris entering the coastal environment.

Eric Sparks, Assistant Extension Professor at Mississippi State University, says the marine debris problem in our area is pretty bad. “You definitely won’t have a problem going out to our beaches and finding trash”, said Sparks. “We’re working on research trying to figure out how to compare our problem to different areas, but it doesn’t take a hard look to see the issue”, he said. 

However, we can help prevent this problem in a numerous amount of ways. Sparks suggests by first reducing your usage of single-use items such as straws, plastic cups and instead using items like re-usable water bottles. Also, ensuring your items won’t get blown away by the wind can help.

“We’re working on educating young students by going to different schools throughout the year and teaching them to leave the beach the way you found it”, he said. “Our long-term goal is to have these cleanup events and there’s nothing to pick up”, said Sparks. 

Local sponsors have also worked to make the event a success. Chevron, Sparks said, played a huge role in the event by providing a monetary donation for event supplies and by sponsoring its own clean up site. Other sponsors include the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sea Grant of Mississippi/Alabama, The Shed, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and more.

The Mississippi Coastal Cleanup will be hosting a July 5th cleanup to battle all the firework debris that litters our beach and waterways after the night of July 4th festivities. In the long term, Mississippi State University Extension Service aims to sponsor additional smaller cleanups throughout the year. Sparks said this could allow for more people to get involved and will help raise awareness of the impact of trash on the environment. The 30th Annual Mississippi Coastal Cleanup will take place Saturday, October 20th, 2018. More information on the registration of July 5th’s cleanup will be posted at a later time, but interested participants can stay tuned on their site at mscoastalcleanup.org

 

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Audubon’s Master Naturalist Class Now Open for Registration

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The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is starting 2018 off right with their Audubon Naturalist Volunteer Training program.

The program allows community members to take part in an exciting and insightful class at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. The Audubon Naturalist Volunteer Training program is designed to expand participants’ understanding of our local environments. The course stays true to the center’s educational mission of connecting people not only to nature, but to our own region’s unique ecology.

Participants in the program are taught about the basic processes that formed and affect the landscape around them, the habitats and organisms that make up and live within the landscape, and the key social and environmental issues affecting the environment. The underlying theme of the Audubon Naturalist program is that habitats exist and function as integrated parts of the overall landscape. As such, the program is habitat-based and focuses attention on the major habitat types in the area where volunteers are trained. The end results are volunteers that are well-versed in local natural history.

The Master Naturalists finish the course ready to teach others about natural history in Mississippi- so they become incredibly helpful and confident volunteers at any number of sites along the Coast. “We can’t run our Center without their time, knowledge, and energy- we utilize their talents for everything from teaching summer camp programs to creating new displays to put on exhibit to planting native plants on our grounds”, said Erin Parker with the Audubon Center. “We offer the course twice a year, once during the winter/early spring and a second in the summer so that teachers can take it for credit during their brief summer vacation!”

“What’s great about the Master Naturalists is that they can help us with all kinds of things, from teaching to native plant landscaping to citizen science projects”, says Parker. “Some of them come weekly, some monthly, some complete projects at home that we incorporate into our exhibits or grounds. And after they’re trained, they might also volunteer at one of the many other sites across the coast- from the Grand Bay NERR to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge to the Crosby Arboretum”, she said. 

This program is based on the Mississippi Master Naturalist Program, developed by Mark W. LaSalle for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. The program began in coastal Mississippi in 1998 with support from the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery. The Audubon Naturalist program is also supported by Chevron. The program expanded into north Mississippi in 2005 with additional funding provided by a grant from the North Central Mississippi Resource Conservation & Development Council and the Natural Resources Initiative of North Mississippi.

The class costs $250 for non-members of the Center and $225 for members. It includes ten days of teaching, 4 books, and a giant binder of materials, plus all the field trips. “We feel that it’s a great value for people that are interested in really learning about our coastal habitats and ecosystems” said Parker. 

The Naturalist program for winter 2018 will take place on Wednesdays running from January 17th through March 21.Parker mentions how the program is a series, and everything builds on the previous class. While there is a different focus each week, everything is interconnected. Participants get to learn everything from geology to weather to plants to wildlife and get to take field trips to a wide range of ecosystems along the Coast.

To register for the Master Naturalist class, fill out the registration form on their site. Please contact Erin Parker at 228.475.0825 or eparker@audubon.org for more information.

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Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge Offers Winter Crane Tours

Those looking for winter entertainment have the opportunity to scout for local wildlife through a Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge winter crane tour.
 
Melissa Perez from the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge said that crane tours are typically offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the fall and winter months, depending on staffing, weather and other factors, because these are usually the best times to see both the cranes and other local wildlife.
 
“Fall and winter are typically the best times for a few reasons,” Perez said. “We tend to be able to see more wildlife due to the dying back of the thick vegetation; we have the opportunity to view migrating winter bird species; and, most importantly, the fall and winter seasons offer minimal disturbance to the critically endangered Mississippi sandhill crane.”
 
Perez explained that the tour season ends in late winter or early spring, as this coincides with the start of nesting season for the cranes – this minimizes any potential disturbance to the birds during a very important and vulnerable time. 
 
She added that crane sightings are not guaranteed on these tours, as they are critically endangered with only about 120 individuals left in the wild. 
 
“While it’s typical that we do see at least a few cranes on any given tour, we often see other wildlife such as bald eagles, white-tailed deer, rabbits, turkey and many different species of migratory birds that are often difficult to spot in other places,” Perez said. “It’s also a great opportunity to go ‘behind the scenes’ with a staff member and see the pine savanna habitat, which is also rare.” 
 
The tours are suited for all abilities, from the beginning wildlife watcher to the advanced birder. They last about two hours, and the refuge encourages participants to wear layers for comfort. Due to the length of the tour, though, it may not be suitable for very young children. 
 
“A crane tour is a unique opportunity to see one of the most rare species and habitat types on the planet,” Perez said. “They are free of charge and a great way for a family to spend a morning enjoying all of the unique natural wonders the Mississippi Gulf Coast provides.” 
 
All crane tours begin at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located at 7200 Crane Lane in Gautier. The tours depart at 8 a.m., and reservations are required.Crane Tours for the month of January will be held on January 6, 10, 17, 20 and 24th. For more information or to make a reservation, please call 228-497-6322 ext 101. For upcoming tour dates (and other programming at the refuge) visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Mississippi_Sandhill_Crane/.
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