JACKSON, Miss. – The Chickasawhay River in southeast Mississippi is a world-renown treasure trove of the Earth’s history, and in a special Mississippi Public Broadcasting original documentary titled “35 Million Years Down the Chickasawhay,” some of the river’s ancient discoveries are revealed. Watch the documentary at 7 p.m. April 26 and at 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. April 29 on MPB Television.
MPB’s Katie Savage is the program’s executive producer. She and experts from three other state agencies – University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks’ Museum of Natural Science and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s Mississippi Office of Geology – collaborated for the documentary.
Mark Puckett, professor of Geology at USM, studies tiny fossils called ostracodes and foraminifera. Ostracodes are tiny crustaceans about the size of a grain of sand. Foraminifera are single-celled creatures that secrete a hard shell. Having collected fossils previously along the Chickasawhay, Puckett wanted to learn more about the formation of the river’s banks, so he organized a canoe trip and invited colleagues from the Office of Geology and the Museum of Natural Science. Thinking their research exploration was fit for television, Puckett contacted Savage who enthusiastically agreed to the project. He also co-produced, co-wrote and narrated the documentary.
“The geology along the Chickasawhay River is well known to geologists, as the strata are rich in fossils and ancient changes in sea level are very well recorded from there. Many species of fossils were first described from there,” said Puckett, who noted people have collected fossils in the river for decades.
George Phillips, curator of paleontology at the Museum of Natural Science, and James Starnes, geologist at the Office of Geology, explain in the documentary how sediment and fossils in the river divulge the planet’s history.
“The Chickasawhay River could be considered a discontinuous diary spanning some 35 million years worth of Mississippi history, documenting marine and coastal environments and inhabitants at certain intervals,” Phillips said. “Each time the Gulf of Mexico intruded upon what is known today as the Mississippi River Basin…it left behind multiple layers of fossil-rich sediment that geologists and paleontologists use to reconstruct what coastal ecosystems were like.”
“Geology is the basis for our environment,” Starnes said. “The detailed study of Mississippi’s geology ultimately is essential to the conservation and preservation of its wildlife habitats, ecosystems and natural resources. The Chickasawhay River carves a rare uninterrupted window into not only Mississippi’s rich geologic past, the exposed rock layers along the river also serve as a reference section for ancient global history and climate change because of their excellent fossil presentation.”
The documentary was filmed July 20-21, 2017 and included several geologists, biologists, local residents who helped with boating, and, of course, the MPB crew. After watching the program, MPB viewers may learn to view the Chickasawhay River differently.
“When you go down the river and see the banks, you’ll start recognizing what you’re looking at,” said Savage. “The big, beautiful banks look like concrete walls but it’s all natural, created by nature, not man made.”
Furthermore, viewers will better comprehend how the shape of the river and nature of its banks relate to sea levels during millions of years and how Earth’s layers of different sediment, colors, shells and other clues “are like pages in the history book of the planet,” Puckett said.
“It is not written in English, of course, but in the language of the Earth. It is hoped that people will come away from the show with a better understanding of how to translate this Earth language into a story that they can understand. It’s a wonderful planet, and a very interesting part of its story is recorded in the banks of the Chickasawhay,” he said.
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