Celebrate the Gulf
Marine Education Festival — October 1991

     Celebrate the Gulf began as an idea that had been discussed among boaters and others who had a special interest in the harbor, the waterfront, and marine life.  Martha Murphy grasped the idea and organized the first event in 1991, which was called the Marine Education Festival.  Its beginnings were  with a few large tents to house exhibitors in the Pass Christian harbor parking lot which was produced in conjunction with the highly promoted “Race of the White Wings.”
Celebrate The Gulf — October 24, 1992            

     The 1992 event had an added special meaning when President Bush and Congress proclaimed that October, 1992 was "Clean Water Month," in marking the 20th anniversary of the Federal Clean Water Act.
     In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency designated 1992 as the “Year of the Gulf ” — having a mission to develop and implement a management strategy aimed at protecting, restoring and maintaining the health and productivity of the Gulf.
     The concept of the Year of the Gulf was to acquaint the nation with the world's ninth largest body of water.  Although many tend to think of the Gulf of Mexico solely as the Mississippi Sound with its waters primarily south of the barrier islands and the beaches of Florida's west coast — but, it is actually a vast body of water that has a coastline shared by two countries and five states.  
     The Gulf is vastly under appreciated by the citizenry.  Old attitudes regarding the Gulf as a self- perpetuating body of water having no need for protection, has resulted in resource overuse, habitat loss, nutrient over-enrichment, pollution, and a resulting decline in fish and shellfish catches —  in addition to generating public health problems affecting shellfish beds.
     Martha Murphy and her growing team of organizers took advantage of the national publicity and decided to further publicize their objectives with a myriad of activities, which would attract greater public interest.
     The October 24 celebration combined these two national declarations into a gigantic three county block party designed to entertain, inform, educate and celebrate the Year of the Gulf.
     There was great enthusiasm about hosting the celebration in Pass Christian and extending  the event to the other three coastal counties.  The idea began to grow and spread, as people from Pearlington to Pascagoula heard about it and told others.  
     No longer was it a Pass Christian Harbor party as it was in 1991.  Participants were involved from New Orleans to Pensacola — And more activities were performed.
     * TheCoast Guard Air Sea Rescue demonstration involving the transrer of people between a high-speed helicopter and surface vessel, all taking place near the breakwater lined with observers, who voiced great approval for the operation.
     * The boat parade passed the harbor with 40 surface craft that represented nine major categories of recreational and marine activity.  — And, the "Pass American," a large excursion vessel, joined the parade carrying many passengers aboard.
The Parade of Boats was considered one of the most spectacular attractions of the day.  Categories for entrants encompassed:  recreation, military, law enforcement, commercial, vintage and certain vessels unique to the Gulf Coast.  Included in the colorful water parade were oyster skiffs, shrimp trawlers, schooners, tugboats, research vessels and hover-crafts.  
     Prior to the parade, many of the boats were tied up in the harbor and held “open house” for sightseer boarding.
     * Exhibits by many agencies demonstrated every conceivable relationship to the Gulf.   Most popular were the children's involvement with the redfish restocking program, and the shellfish culture program that called on microscopic examination of oyster propagation.  There was also the beachcone system that emphasized the prevention of shoreline erosion.
     * The historic sailing vessels race between the “Corsair” and the “Cyrus E. King.”
     * The children's poster contest of 6400 entries from the three coastal counties.  Three winners in each county were awarded prizes by Pass Christian Mayor Ted Lawyer.
     * Two awards were presented to the Pass Christian-Long Beach waste water treatment plant for its outstanding excellence of operation.
     * The Festival of Foods featured food booths purveying local seafood specialties from towns along the coast from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle.  
     * Musical groups added to the festive atmosphere throughout the day.

     The 1992 celebration resulted in a wide range of exhibits that focused on many facets of the Gulf and the wet-lands and the tributaries surrounding and emptying into it.  Theere were more than 30 national, regional, and local organizations on hand to advance awareness of, and participation in the conservation efforts centered on marine environment.
     Many of the exhibits are developed to appeal especially to children.  One of the most meaningful to the envent’s theme was in encouraging children to release redfish fingerlings into the Sound.  
     Another exhibit that delighted kids and adults alike was the Aquacar, sponsored by the Aquarium of the Americas; — and the Zoomobile, by the New Orleans Audubon Zoo.  These unique vehicles with live fish and animals are brought to areas surrounding New Orleans.
     A real hands-on experience will be provided by the J .L. Scott Marine Education Center in Biloxi, which will bring touch tables so children can feel sand dollars, crabs and other small creatures native to the coast shallows.  The kids can also play environmental beach games.
     Stennis Space Center demonstrated computer satellite mapping featuring the Mississippi coast in addition to infrared photographs taken by the United States Geological Survey
     Pass Christian's aquaculture company, Shellfish Culture, Inc. displayed a marine-culture exhibit that demonstrated how native oysters are cultivated.  Also featured was a living reef supporting Gulf species.
     Even downtown businesses participated with special events in connection with the celebration.  Trollies were run throughout the day to shuttle people between the harbor and the downtown area.
     According to one report, 10,000 people showed up at the Pass Christian harbor on Saturday, October 24th, in a mood to celebrate.
Celebrate The Gulf — October 23, 1993

     Observers among the thousands of visitors to the 1993 "Celebrate The Gulf " festival on Saturday, October 23rd termed it a great educational and participative success.  
     The festival had three co-sponsors:  
* The Mississippi Chapter of the Gulf Coast Conservation Association backed the kids catch-and-release fishing program as part of its marine conservation mission;  
* The Gulf Coast Foundation organized by festival founder Martha Murphy;
* The City of Pass Christian acted as host and provided $5,000 financial support.

     Sue Chamberlain of the Gulf Coast Planning Agency was general chairman of the event; her committee included Eddie Bigelow, Vonnie Bodenschatz, Nikki Butterworth, Rimmer Covington, Nonny Debardeleben, Jim Henri, Ron Herring, Margaret Jean Kalif, Burt Kemp, Martha Murphy and Pat Wiley.
     Exhibits were underwritten by Hancock Bank, Memorial Hospital of Gulfport, Ingalls Shipbuilding, Harrison County, Mississippi Power, FEB Distributing, Spur Oil and Space Walk Tent Company.
     Educational exhibits by thirty-six national and regional organizations dispensed information on a wide variety of environmental activities to those who crowded into the exhibits.
     Kids lined the pier seeking to win the fishing prizes.  All fish that they caught went into the holding tank and were later released to the Gulf.  Their recycled beverage cans were traded in for a redfish fingerling, which each child could release in the Gulf.
     Nearly 7000 school artists had submitted art posters for prizes.  The best of these were exhibited in one of the tents.  Lonnie Becnel, a twelfth-grader from St. Stanislaus High School, won the handsome trophy for best entry.  Pass students who won honors were Hung Hoang of Pass High and Janet Gilbert of Pass Elementary .
     The Pass fire department's dive and rescue team demonstrated underwater search with the help of dogs specially trained for that work.
     The Coast Guard repeated its popular air-sea rescue demonstration just in front of the large crowd that lined the sea wall.
     The Beachcomber Trolley, sponsored by the People’s Bank, shuttled visitors to and from the festival from numerous parking lots.
     While netmakers and fly fishermen demonstrated their skills.

Celebrate the Gulf — October 22, 1994

     As in the previous three years, the 1994 "Celebrate the Gulf' marine education festival at the west harbor on Saturday, October22nd, was a wonderful event with something for everyone.  The festival continued to promote its traditional role of educating the public, particularly the young, in the treasures offered by the Gulf.
     Sue Chamberlain and Eddie Bigelow were joint chairpersons with Martha Murphy continuing to add support and enthusiasm.
     Some of the events that attracted good audiences were the Dog Dive Rescue team, which demonstrated how these highly trained animals work;  the musical puppet theater;  some great boat models;  experts in fishing, talking about equipment and baits and conducting the fishing rodeo;  the art of 10,000 area students expressing their appreciation of the joys and bounty of the Gulf;  and a.multitude of commissions, agencies, schools, etc. eager to share their knowledge of the Gulf with the attendees.
     Student art overall winner was Joseph Ladner of the North Gulfport elementary school; Pass winners were Nathan Sanders of Pass High — first in Harrison County, and Kissy Bell, a fifth grader at the elementary school, who won honorable mention in Harrison County.

Celebrate the Gulf -- Nov 1, 1997

     On Saturday, November 1, 1997, featured again, was the Marine Education Festival — "Celebrate the Gulf"   That year, Bob Fairbank of Mississippi Power Co. led several other sponsoring organizations that participated in hosting the annual event.
     Many of the exhibitors and children’s activities were replicated from previous years, such as the Children's Fishing Rodeo and a High School Cheerleading Contest.  More recent highlights include crawling through the "turtle hurdle," boarding a Marine Patrol boat and taking a ride on a wooden schooner. Kids can also learn how to cast a net or fly-fish, as well as learn the ins and outs of canoe and kayak safety.  While the kids have their way, parents are treated to seafood cuisine cooking by chef specialists.

     The planning and coordination of the Festival each year is conducted by a Committee that meets several months in advance.  It is comprised of a minimum of one representative from the City of Pass Christian, employees from Mississippi Power Company, a DMR Agent and any others who may be interested in sponsoring or participating on a higher level.

Celebrate the Gulf continues as an evolutionary annual event!


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