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You can train an old dog to do new tricks if you’re a Marsh Dawg.

The four-day Marsh Dawgs camp for a dozen high school 4-H junior leaders from St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes is modeled after Marsh Maneuvers, a state-wide coastal stewardship camp hosted by Louisiana Sea Grant and the LSU AgCenter for the last three decades. Created by Dominique Seibert, a Louisiana Sea Grant and AgCenter marine extension agent; Wayne Burgess, 4-H associate agent; and Corinne Bird, extension associate for the 4-H Youth Wetlands Program, Marsh Dawgs provides a similar experience for students in Southeast Louisiana.

“I wanted to be a part of this program to give other students opportunities like the one I had,” said Seibert, who participated in Marsh Maneuvers when she was in high school. That experience inspired her to pursue an environmental career.

Marsh Dawgs, formerly known as Wayne’s Wetlands, allows students to learn about wetland ecology, the environmental aspects of living in South Louisiana, as well as the fishing and seafood industries.

The 4-H’ers conducted mock roseau cane (Phragmites australis) sampling using the same methods as professional researchers and learned about an invasive species attacking the important coastal plant. The group also went night fishing; was taught fishing techniques, how to tie knots and how to properly clean fish; practiced species identification by dissecting fish; determined the gender of fish; and how to use fish otoliths to determine a fish’s age. Students also did water quality testing, participated in marine debris cleanup and learned how to use a compass and GPS

The camp also facilitated a focused discussion about the current Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) Master Plan for river diversions in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. Diversions are designed to move sediments in a way that connects a river to its delta to rebuild land in surrounding areas.

“There has been intense debate on the benefits and downfalls of creating these diversions. It will have a direct impact on fishermen and oystermen in the area, causing some to change how and where they have been fishing for decades,” said Seibert.

Both parishes are close knit communities, with families who are generational commercial fishermen.

“With the diversions included in the Master Plan, the entire area where these kids are from will be affected. My focus was to give students both view points of the issue so they would know what’s going on around them, and to open their eyes to a bigger picture,” said Seibert.

“The community had a large part in making this camp a success with their accommodations and donations,” added Seibert. “One student personally thanked me for giving her this opportunity and told me she learned a lot. I’m glad they were able to learn, and have a ton of fun at the same time.”

Marsh Dawgs Camp

Students conduct water quality testing on water collected from the Mississippi River.

Marsh Dawgs Camp

Canoeing near Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge learning about the local ecosystem and its inhabitants.

Marsh Dawgs Camp

Students learn how to dissect and collect otoliths from spotted seatrout.

Marsh Dawgs Camp

Seibert teaches camp participants about age and growth studies by collecting otoliths, the ear bones in fish.