Three months of preparation and one day of traveling later, leaders with the University of Southern Mississippi and other research groups officially toured the newest marine research vessel to make its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Point Sur is a 135-foot long research vessel that made its way from Monterey Bay, California to the country of Panama, where USM and others met it to travel through the Panama Canal on its way to the Gulf.
"We've got a lot of need right now in the Gulf of Mexico following the oil spill," said Monty Graham of the vessel's research capacities, chairman of USM's Department of Marine Science and interim director of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
Graham, who conducted research on the Point Sur in California when he was a student, said it's quite a coincidence USM now owns the vessel, but he is optimistic of the opportunities it will offer students and professionals.
"We want to have these in the Gulf to meet the need of oceonagraphic research demand that is growing," he said, noting that Point Sur will now be only the second permanent vessel in the Gulf in addition to the Pelican from Louisiana.
Point Sur was previously owned by the National Science Foundation, and USM received the ship after the state Institutions of Higher Learning approved the university's purchase. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality also gave the university a $1 million grant for the state-of-the-art vessel.
"That's what we're about is training students," said Graham. "What we envision is having two solid opportunities for undergraduate students to go out and have a feel for oceanic research and another for seniors to have a capstone project."
The vessel accommodates 13 researchers and technicians and a crew of eight. It can hold 40 researchers for day cruises, and it has multiple laboratories.
The Point Sur will arrive in Gulfport via the Panama Canal next week, and USM and others will travel on the boat through the Canal Friday and Saturday.