Learn and play at LUMCON this weekend

By Houma Today.com
12 April 2011

HOUMA — Want to learn what creatures live at the bottom of the Gulf dead zone? Or go on an airboat ride into the marsh and get your hands on some of the Gulf’s sea life?

Located near the end of the road in Cocodrie, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, known as LUMCON, will open the doors to its marine research facility Saturday to invite the public in for a day of fun and science.

The open house will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the research station, 8124 La. 56. The event is free and open to the public.

“We’re really proud of the facility and what we do, and this is an opportunity to share with the community,” said Nancy Rabalais, a marine biologist and director of LUMCON.

LUMCON was founded in 1979 to coordinate and enhance marine science research and education in Louisiana. Initially run out of a single trailer, researchers eventually moved into the W.J. “Woody” DeFelice Marine Center, their current facility, in 1986. The station is also home to two large research vessels, the 58-foot Acadiana, and the 116-foot Pelican.

The Pelican has been booked solid since last spring taking researchers out to study the effects of the Gulf oil spill, and will be on the water again during the open house. But visitors will be invited to tour the Acadiana and learn about conducting science on the water.

Rabalais said there will be more games for kids this year, including bean bag tosses and crab races, and popular events from past open houses will return, including a scavenger hunt that rewards all children with goody bags at the end of the game. There will be free red beans and rice.

Touch tanks to will help kids get hands-on with some local marine life, and you can learn to do basic water quality tests for pH-balance, salt levels, dissolved oxygen and temperature at a demonstration of the marine center’s Bayouside Classroom program.

Airboats will be available to take anyone over the age of 12 on a tour of nearby marshes. Children 5 years or older can ride if accompanied by a parent.

Adult visitors can explore LUMCON’s laboratories, interact with researchers about the work being done at LUMCON and hear presentations on some of the latest research being done on the Gulf oil spill.

Erin Grey, a marine biologist from Tulane, will discuss the oil spill’s impact on blue crabs. Brad Rosenheim, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Tulane, will talk about work to create a fingerprint of the oil so that it can be traced as it’s absorbed into the Gulf environment. Alex Kolker, a wetland researcher at LUMCON, will talk about the recovery of oiled marshes in Barataria Bay.

Researchers at the station tackle a variety of issues that directly affect the lives of Gulf Coast residents, tracking and mapping the Gulf dead zone, an area of low-to-know oxygen in the water that can harm marine animals, the sinking of land, wetland loss, Gulf fisheries, and now the oil spill, said LUMCON scientist Geoff Sinclair.

Sinclair, a marine researcher at LUMCON who studies phytoplankton, tiny plants such as algae that live at the water’s surface, said he’ll have posters up detailing his research, and attendees can get a look at the equipment that goes into plankton science. Kolker said his lab will present projects and displays that focus on efforts to rebuild the coast and some of the science behind our coastal restoration projects.

Kolker said all of the marine research station’s staff will be on hand for the open house.

“It’s a great time to ask questions,” he said.

Holly Hebert, a LUMCON spokeswoman, said the open house is a chance to let locals explore a world-class marine research station they may have not even realized was in their backyards.

“We want to make Louisiana aware of us,” Hebert said. “A lot of people go by and see this big building and wonder what’s in here. We want to educate the community about our environmental research.”