Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is filled with unique ecosystems provided by its estuaries. Estuaries are usually found where rivers meet the sea, creating a body of brackish water, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water.

Often called nurseries of the sea, estuaries provide vital nesting and feeding habitats for many aquatic plants and animals.  Estuaries also help to maintain healthy ocean environments. They filter out sediments and pollutants from rivers and streams before they flow into the oceans, providing cleaner waters for marine life. Birds, fish, amphibians, insects, and other wildlife depend on estuaries to live, feed, nest, and reproduce.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

With how many species depend on estuarine environments, places like the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the people who work there are so important, such as Dr. Ayesha Gray.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

Gray is the director of Grand Bay NERR who studies aquatic ecosystem functions and the effectiveness of habitat restoration projects. She develops and conducts ecological research with her colleagues to better understand how fisheries are supported by wetlands.

“We aim to understand how this special estuary works and what it does, so we can know what actions are best in managing it,” Gray said.

However, Gray doesn’t just focus on working with her team, but also educating the community on the importance of estuaries by developing the reserve’s outreach programs.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

“I think it is important for people to understand what ecosystems do, because they do such important things for us – create food, clean our water and air, absorb storm surge, etc.,” Gray explained. “Estuaries are important nurseries for fish and shellfish, where commercially caught fish often grow up before moving offshore.”

However, Gray’s focus isn’t just on education, but also on allowing people to enjoy the estuaries.

NERR-frog Scientist preaches importance of estuaries

“I also think estuaries are beautiful and special places than enrich the human soul,” she said. “We often conduct kayak tours and encourage our visitors to see the marshes from the water. Kayaking is especially nice way to see the marshes because it is a quiet way to travel and you can see all the birds and fish and other critters as you go along.”

In short, Gray just wants to make sure the Jackson County community understands the beauty and importance of the many local estuaries the way she does.

“Estuaries are vital to the coastal way of life, and I find the more people know about them, the more people love them and want to protect them.”

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Local scientist works for education, conservation

lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation

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Boasting numerous educational programs for all age groups, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center has become a staple in Jackson County.

Serving the largest free-flowing river in the United States, the center promotes education about the river and leads conservation efforts to the surrounding environment. Leading the effort the whole way is Dr. Mark LaSalle. 

Mark LaSalle is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award. As the Director of the Audubon Center in Moss Point, LaSalle is responsible for coordinating the continued development of the center as well as expanding the center’s educational programs.

“My focus has always been on environment education and wetland restoration, so it was natural that when I learned about the possibility of this center coming to be that I wanted to be part of it,” he said. “I’m always looking for a challenge, so building something like this from the ground up for the past 10 years has been fun for me.”

LaSalle is a wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. Not only does he help to educate visitors to the Audubon Center, but also everyone in the surrounding community about the unique resource that is the Pascagoula River. 

“I work promoting and protecting this resource,” he said. “I like to think of conservation as a three-legged stool that is held up by educational programs, the science to back it up and public policy to make it all happen. We are constantly working on engaging the community about a resource we are trying to protect. We work to be a partner with the community and promote nature-based economic development. My world is education.”

lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation
lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation
lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation

However, LaSalle stressed that nothing would be possible without his partners at the center who execute everything he dreams. 

“I couldn’t do it without them.”

Another passion of LaSalle’s is to educate the youth of the community on the area’s natural resources. He feels they are the future.

“I feel like this younger generation is not as connected to nature as when I grew up, with all of the technology that is now so readily available,” he said. “Also, children are the building blocks for keeping resources like the river protected. I can get current elected officials on my side, but if I don’t work on the future elected officials then I’m in trouble. Yeah, not everyone will run for office or get elected, but these children will grow up and vote. We might not get an immediate result from these education programs we coordinate, but we will see it down the road.”

Anyone who has the chance to speak to LaSalle about his work can easily hear the passion in his voice about everything he does. He offers a great piece of advice that can apply to anyone, no matter their interests.

“You have to love what you’re doing or you have to do something else,” he said. “Find something you love doing because you’re going to be it a long time.”

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JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

 

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25th annual soap box derby to be in downtown Moss Point

The 25th anniversary of the Deborah Washington Memorial Soap Box Derby will be held in downtown Moss Point on Saturday, April 29.

The race, sponsored by the Chevron Black Employee Network (BEN) and Moss Point Active Citizens (MPAC), draws participants from across the Southeast. It is open to children between the ages of 7 and 17 who build their engine-less cars from kits purchased from a designated supplier.

Winners of the Moss Point divisions will travel to Akron, Ohio to compete in the All-American Soap Box Championship.

Originally known as the Magnolia State Soap Box Derby, the event’s name was changed to honor Deborah Washington after she lost her battle with breast cancer. Washington started the event in 1992, and was a beloved Refinery employee known for her active community involvement.

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Yacht club chef returns to Food Network

One of the great things about the Mississippi Gulf Coast is the amazing food the region offers.

It isn’t just because of the local seafood or the proximity to New Orleans. All of those assets would mean nothing if not in the hands of talented chefs such as Food Network-featured Stacie “Cheffy” Vande Wetering.

cheffy-ggg Yacht club chef returns to Food NetworkWetering has been featured on Beat Bobby Flay and is now returning to Guy’s Grocery Games as part of a Winner’s Tournament after winning on the first episode she competed in, which was a whirlwind of an experience.

“I remember getting a call on a random Wednesday afternoon in October asking if I would be interested in auditioning for Guy’s Grocery Games. I did a Skype interview that Friday and then had 48 hours to submit a three-minute video of myself to determine if my personality would be right for the show. It was a long process of lots of phone calls and being asked the same questions over and over again.”

Wetering flew out the week before Thanksgiving and ended up appearing on a special episode of the series.

“It turns out I’m working with another chef during this competition who I’ve literally never met before. You’ve got two people crammed into this cooking station that is really only meant for one, and he’s a foot and a half taller than me on top of that.”

Guy’s Grocery Games is a show, hosted by Guy Fieri, that sends four chefs shopping for ingredients in a grocery store set to then make a dish for the challenge. However, things are not as straightforward as they seem because the challenge also lies in the different parameters set for the shopping and cooking, such as a budget or an unexpected added ingredient all while under a time limit for the shopping and cooking.

“I just remember it all being a whirlwind,” Wetering recalled. “Those clocks are for real and that was the fastest 30 minutes I have ever experienced in my life. You just go into automatic pilot. Even though we had just met, [my partner and I] worked together like we had been working together for 20 years.”

Wetering and her partner won the competition for that episode, and now she is returning to the Flavortown Market.

“I got a phone call asking if I would be interested and available to compete in a winners’ tournament and I said of course. While I can’t say much about it now, I will say I ended up competing against my partner from the first episode I was on. We keep in touch, but we didn’t know we were both invited back until we were flying out.”

Competing on Food Network programming is just the latest accomplishment Wetering has made in her culinary career.

Wetering has had a passion for cooking since early in her life, inspired by her father. She decided early in her college career that her ideal classroom was the kitchen and her instructor a professional chef.

“I’ve been cooking for almost 27 years now,” she said. “I started a formal two-year apprenticeship under a German chef in Orange Beach, Alabama, working from 1991-1993. I’m not knocking culinary schools, but I firmly believe I would not have gotten as far in my career as I did if not for my apprenticeship.”

Wetering’s culinary career has included working under five different Certified Master Chefs, the highest level of achievement from the American Culinary Federation.

“At any one time, there are only 55-65 Certified Master Chefs in the world,” Wetering said.

Wetering has experience with cuisine in the style of classic French, Italian, Asian, Central and Southern Mexican. She can do everything in her kitchen from managing the menu to washing the dishes.

“In cooking, you have to pay your dues,” Wetering said. “As a chef, you need to be able to do everything in your kitchen to have the respect of your staff. A lot of my career I’ve been choosey about who I work for. I knew what I wanted to learn and what I wanted to do.”

Wetering has worked in numerous restaurants throughout Atlanta as well as New York and various locations in Alabama. She now finds herself as General Manager and Executive Chef at the Singing River Yacht Club in Pascagoula.cheffy-ggg Yacht club chef returns to Food Network

“If you had asked me five years ago if I would be interested in moving to South Mississippi running a private yacht club, I would say you’re insane,” Wetering joked.

Wetering’s previous position was working as the Executive Chef at a tennis club in Fairhope, Alabama.

“I had a lot of freedom with my menu and a great crew,” she recounted. “But even if I’m happy in my position I’ll talk to anyone because you never know what might happen. I was asked to interview for this position at a club where the board felt it was time for a change. “

Change is exactly what Wetering brought with her.

“I’m all about a challenge. I’m a fixer. I’m type A. Over my career I would go into a kitchen, and whatever it was the kitchen may or may not have been functioning as best as it could. I would fix it and then I would need something else to challenge me. We’re still a work in progress, but in nearly two years, we now have a waiting list for members, which has never happened before. We have tripled profit and now this is where everyone wants to be. I still have a way to go and still so much I want to do with it. I’m not trying to make it fancy or high end, but a great family-friendly yacht club.”

While the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a change from Atlanta and New York, Cheffy is happy to call Pascagoula her home.

“We have no plans to go anywhere. We’re even buying a house. You just can’t beat where we leave.”

 

 

 

 

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Pascagoula lawyer inducted into Ole Miss Hall of Fame

RayBrown Pascagoula lawyer inducted into Ole Miss Hall of Fame

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A Jackson County lawyer was honored on March 25 by being inducted into the University of Mississippi School of Law Alumni Hall of Fame.

Raymond Brown has been practicing law in Pascagoula since the 1960s after he graduated from Ole Miss and the University of Maryland in 1962. Upon graduation, Brown was able to serve as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, a rare occurrence for graduates fresh out of law school.

“I believe my induction has to do with a number of things, including my clerkship, but also serving as president of the Mississippi Bar and other positions I’ve held in my professional career,” Brown said.

Brown’s time in law school was an unusual one. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss in 1958, Brown played professional football for the Baltimore Colts for three years as safety and punter helping lead the team to two NFL World Championships in 1958 and 1959. During his football career, Brown attended the University of Maryland in the fall semester and Ole Miss in the spring until 1962.

Brown’s other achievements include being inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, the Ole Miss Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 2000, the M-Club Hall of Fame in 1988 and served as president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association from 1991-92.

“You spend your career in a profession trying to be professional, be ethical, treat people right, do the right and things, and then when something like this comes along, you think ‘Gee, I did it right,'” Brown added. “They gave me this honor based upon what I’ve done, so I must have done it right.”

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Volunteers Partner for Home Fire Prevention

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Chevron Pascagoula Refinery recently partnered with the American Red Cross, Pascagoula Fire Department and U.S. Navy volunteers to educate local residents about fire safety. More than 50 volunteers gathered on Feb. 3 to go door-to-door in east Pascagoula to pass out educational material and install free smoke alarms in homes where there are no working smoke alarms, not enough smoke alarms, or alarms that were not installed correctly.

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NERR Hosts Estuary Day

Capt-Lee NERR Hosts Estuary Day

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Chevron Pascagoula Refinery recently pitched in to help the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) with its annual Estuary Day event.

This awareness and education day drew more than 30 people to the reserve, which is located to the east of the Pascagoula Refinery. Attendees boarded small boats, including Chevron’s Captain Lee, to visit with scientists out in the reserve and learn more about the work of the Grand Bay NERR.

Special thanks to Pascagoula Oil Spill Response Team (PORT) member Mike Dean (M&R, PORT Team) for captaining Chevron’s vessel, and to Dale Shirley (PGPA) for spearheading Chevron’s participation.

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Book Drive Benefits Local Learners

Book-Drive-group Book Drive Benefits Local Learners

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The Somos and PRIDE Employee Networks recently partnered to collect 354 children’s books for the Jackson County Literacy Council.

Employees throughout the refinery donated to the collection, and Somos Network representatives delivered the books to Literacy Council in October. The books were then distributed to children during the Jackson County Fair in October, and donated to the Little Free Libraries in Pascagoula.

Somos Network webmaster Heming Bai (Technical) explained how the project began with the Somos Network’s vision to positivly impact the community, and that the Jackson County Literacy Council was identified as an organization with strong connections to the local Latin American and Hispanic Community.

“Initially, I attended a leadership board meeting to bridge the connection and learn about how Somos can engage with JCLC,” Bai said. “Through this meeting, I was awed by the strong Chevron ties amongst board members and heard from the director about the need for children’s books for the fair. With strong support from the Somos Leadership Team and RLT sponsor (Louis Henry Jr.), we partnered with the PRIDE Network and embarked to help the Literacy Council meet the needs for the local community.”
Jackson County Literacy Council, started in 1987, was founded to improve education, life and social skills for men and women in Jackson County. In the latest census, almost 6,500 Jackson County residents have less than nine years of education.

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