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Students ‘garden’ oysters at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis

The Marine Science Program takes advantage of a living laboratory to teach lessons that last a lifetime
Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 3:44 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2022 at 10:16 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Colin Wood tends to an oyster garden in Bay St. Louis, pulling a cage from the water and dunking it three times to give the tiny oysters inside a bath.

Wood, a senior at St. Stanislaus on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is an intern in the school’s Marine Science Program.

“When I first joined it, I didn’t think I’d be so interested in the oyster gardens,” Wood said. “I was focused on the fish.”

He and other students take a walk down the school’s pier to the shoreline of a living laboratory.

Each June, for five years now, Mississippi’s Department of Marine Resources has lent St. Stanislaus spat, or baby oysters.

About the width of a straw, the spat cling to oyster shells as they grow.

Over the course of the school year, the students grow the spat into something closer to what you would recognize on your dinner plate.

It’s my favorite course,” said senior Dayton Hall.

“We live on the water. It’s such a great experience to actually know more about the place where you live.”

School leaders started the program in part to take advantage of their location on Bay St. Louis near the Gulf of Mexico.

“There’s so much about this we’re all unaware of,” said Brother Barry Landry, SC, the school president. “We just see water. We have no idea of what’s going on here and how it affects human life and our planet.”

That includes the role oysters play in the ecosystem, from cleaning waterways to providing habitat for small sea creatures and protecting shorelines.

“It’s the perfect place to bring nature into your classroom or your classroom out to nature,” said Letha Boudreaux, Director of the Marine Science Program.

“When it’s this involved, when it’s this hands-on, it’s a whole different level of learning,” Landry said.

A few years ago, they grew almost 10-thousand oysters.

Then, the months-long Bonnet Carre Spillway opening pushed freshwater into the bay.

“Our oysters were still growing and as soon as the freshwater hit them, they started to die off,” Boudreaux said.

In 2021, even with the spillway closed, heavy rains in the Mississippi Sound were hard on baby oysters.

Boudreaux uses the course to warn about the harm pollution inflicts on the world’s waterways, including nurdles. The tiny balls of plastic mar oceans and beaches, becoming poisonous magnets for sea creatures.

“We find those in a strandline (along the beach) and it takes practice to find them.”

Administrators at St. Stanislaus hope the class impacts students long after they leave the school.

“It’s using science with the approach of stewardship of creation,” Landry said. “That is a powerful thing that these guys learn that they don’t even realize they’re learning right now. They will use that in the future.”

Marine Science is a two-year elective program, featuring classroom instruction in year one and hands-on work in year two.

The state of Mississippi takes back the grown oysters at the end of the school year and places them in an undisclosed location.

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