Laura Bush promotes conservation at Miss. marine education center

Published 10:31 pm Saturday, November 3, 2007

First lady Laura Bush told marine educators and conservationists Friday that people need to do their part to fight the pollution of oceans and waterways.

She spoke at a ceremony designating the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, an education center and lab belonging to the University of Southern Mississippi.

The lab — which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina two years ago — was designated Friday as a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center. It is the 21st such center which promotes recycling and conservation and promotes a general education about protecting marine life.

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Bush said healthy oceans and waterways “provide the food we eat and often the water we drink.”

“I’ve seen what humans can do and what our behavior can do to devastate marine life,” she said.

Bush said she recently visited the island of Midway and saw baby birds dying from ingesting plastic their parents mistook for squid.

Before her speech, she visited a classroom at the marine education center and watched as Ocean Springs 5th graders sorted through marine debris collected on Mississippi beaches.

Wearing protective gloves, more than two dozen children sorted glass bottles, aluminum cans, scrap metal, roof shingles, paper and old fishing items such as tangled twine and foam buoys.

As the first lady looked on, Rick Ranew, an educator with the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center, told the students about the importance of recycling. He said it takes roughly one million years for a single glass bottle to disintegrate. Plastic jugs take about 450 years, and even a banana peel, though biodegradable, will take longer than a month to disintegrate.

Ten-year-old Brittany Barrett, who crinkled her nose as she pulled an old sock from the bag of debris, said she was amazed that a single glass bottle will take 1 million years to disintegrate.

“That’s really weird,” she said.

The first lady has been to the Gulf Coast more than a dozen times since Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. She was in New Orleans on Thursday and early Friday to speak to educators about mentoring.

In Ocean Springs, Bush was joined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican who is seeking re-election next week, and Dirk Kempthorne, the U.S. interior secretary.

Barbour complimented the first lady’s efforts to draw awareness of the importance of marine life and the work the federal government has done in helping rebuild Mississippi since Katrina.

Bush said the $690 million fishing industry in the five Gulf Coast states generates more than 1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish a year.