Coastal Explorer

In this unique three-hour field trip program, teachers choose from eight exciting topics to create their own rich marine education experience. The field trip begins at our state-of-the-art facility at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory's Cedar Point location. The 100-acre site on Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, features indoor and outdoor classrooms, laboratories, habitat trails and floating classrooms in a coastal setting. Program fees begin at $10 per participant. Sessions that feature dissections add $5 lab fee per participant. Call 228.818.8833 or email us at marine.education@usm.edu today to book your trip!


Choose three marine education modules to create your custom three-hour field trip.

Coastal Reptiles

Students learn about box turtles, diamondback terrapins, alligators and non-venomous snakes of South Mississippi. Observe live specimens and artifacts in our laboratory and learn how humans impact local wildlife. Students take a short walk to check trap lines and examine drift fences used to capture reptiles for Marine Education Center (MEC) site population studies. Educators demonstrate Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tagging technology and methods for safe release of tagged animals.

Coastal Habitats

When the MEC team began their journey to create a "best-in-class" marine education center, professionals surveyed the entire area on Davis Bayou cataloging trees, habitats, and resident animal populations. The site features tidal marshes, maritime forests, coastal bayous and a forested Bayhead. Participants head out to the trails to visit the unique habitats, observing varieties of plants, birds, and other animals, learning techniques and characteristics to distinguish one habitat from another.

Water Quality

Students walk to one of the bayou access points on the site to collect water samples and perform water quality measurements. In the laboratory, they apply chemical methods for measuring salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and temperature. Students gain an understanding of how water quality changes with the seasons, and its vast impact on coastal wildlife. Educators teach about expanding dead zones, algae blooms and how upstream fertilizer runoff and other pollutants impact the water quality in the Gulf of Mexico.

Plankton & Copepods

USM researchers are leaders in the field of cultivating copepods critical for feeding newly hatched fry in aquaculture systems. Students begin the session with a walk to the bayou and pulling a net to collect plankton. Returning to the laboratory classroom, students examine their collected specimens under microscopes, identifying copepods, zooplankton, phytoplankton, holoplankton, and meroplankton. Participants gain an understanding of the importance of plankton in the food web and how variations in populations can impact the food chain in a coastal environmental system.

Dichotomous Key

Marine educators created a dichotomous key featuring local species to teach about taxonomy and classification and to help students learn the techniques to distinguish organisms. Educators demonstrate observation and identification techniques to aid in the critical thinking process to identify and evaluate morphological differences of fish, crabs, clams, snails and other organisms to their taxonomic level.

Predatory Birds with Owl Pellet Dissection

Students engage in a learning adventure studying coastal birds of prey including osprey, swallow-tailed kite, bald eagles and owls, their nesting and hunting habits and ecological specialization.
Students work in pairs to dissect a preserved owl pellet to understand the unique digestion system of owls and their diet.

Shark Biology with Shark Dissection

Learn why sharks are apex predators and what our research scientists are learning in ongoing USM GCRL shark research in the Gulf of Mexico. Students work in small teams to dissect a shark specimen to gain an understanding of internal and external shark anatomy. Marine educators explain the seven senses of sharks, what's unique about their digestive system, and how they have evolved over millions of years.

Fish Biology with Fish Dissection

Students work in groups of two to dissect a fish specimen to learn first-hand about internal and external fish anatomy. Educators explore scale type, digestive and respiratory systems and ecological adaptations such as fin shape and caudle peduncle. Students remove otoliths (fish ear bones) and learn how fisheries research scientists analyze the otoliths to chart fish age and growth rates all over the world.