Dianne Collette | 9/10/2017
Last month, I wrote about getting ready to travel to Catalina Island with my granddaughter, Alyssa, to participate in an Earthwatch project as “citizen scientists”. I said we would be “beach-combing and counting stuff”. That is a fairly accurate general description of what we did during our week of research and data collection. We participated in four data collection activities.
• We surveyed human activity within a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
• We looked for and recorded marine mammals in and around the MPA.
• We gathered data on the presence or absence of specified sea life—mostly snails, barnacles and algae—along the shore and in tide pools.
• We microscopically examined sea water for the presence of a variety of plankton.
What kind of vacation is that for a vintage citizen and a fashionista teen? The best kind! When else can you call poking around in tide pools, hiking to hill-tops to view the ocean, kayaking through kelp beds looking for seal noses and viewing the tiny critters that occupy a tablespoon of sea water, “work”? And the “pay” for the work? How about snorkeling—to see what you are contributing to protect. How about night snorkeling—a first for me. And I didn’t even know it was on my Bucket List until I did it.
The evening before our night snorkel we had a presentation about the research being done on horned sharks. These are small, filter-feeding sharks most easily located at night. Researcher, Emily, was with us on our night snorkel. But Alyssa was the one who found the horned shark! It was a little guy—less than two feet long. Emily caught and held it so we could all see it up close.
Another unofficial research activity for Alyssa was evening fox-hunting for the endemic little foxes that inhabit the island and are so habituated to humans that they invade the dorms at night and leave piles of evidence of their presence in the hall. While I was doing some research on Uber in the computer lab, Alyssa and Laura, another team member, were stealthily trailing a fox around the campus. When I came back to the dorm, they gave me silent hand signals to be quiet and look where they were pointing. Yep, a fox the size of a large cat!
Speaking of Uber… Although the Earthwatch briefing mentions getting from the airport to the rendezvous and back by taxi, Uber is by far the better financial option. It was well worth the frustration of my first-time use of the app. on my phone and the fee for twice canceling an immediate ride before we figured out how to use the new schedule-ahead function. Thank goodness for tech-competent granddaughters.
Another competency I learned my granddaughter has is using a microscope. I am highly microscope-challenged; Alyssa is great at it. Maybe its young eyes? Fortunately, the lab is equipped with a microscope that is attached to a camera which projects what is being viewed onto a flat-screen TV. That way team leader Lorraine could show team members Nancy and I what Alyssa and Laura were finding on their own.
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I always find something to learn and something to enjoy about my Earthwatch project experiences. On this project, what I learned and enjoyed the most was not the science or the location or the people. It was experiencing the bitter-sweet joy of seeing my “baby” granddaughter interacting as a peer and contributing as a team member with environmental science-minded adults--and having fun doing it.