One of the perks, so to speak, of my job as a science teacher are the exotic locales we get to visit. I am being a little facetious with the word exotic, however, in all seriousness, at our school we are blessed to be able to provide some wonderful trips for our students. And while it is a working trip with all of the joys and challenge that a work trip entails, I did have a lot of fun visiting a place I had not been to before.
At the end of September, I was able to chaperone a grade-level field trip to Catalina Island, about 26 miles off the coast of Southern California. We departed from the Queen Mary landing in Long Beach for the two hour or so boat ride to the island. I was familiar with our departure location as in years past I had watched my boys depart for their week-long Scout trips to Cherry Valley also on Catalina Island. Indeed, the last time I was at the landing was back in 2018 when I saw my son Nate and my dad off for their Fourth of July trip to Camp Cherry Valley. I felt a twinge of sadness at the thought and how much has changed in the past three years, but that was short-lived. After all I was there to help lead a school field trip. The staff of Catalina Classic Cruises was very organized and we quickly loaded and we soon after departed from the shore. After passing the long line of cargo ships carrying late-running Christmas gifts and the port economy waiting to dock in Long Beach, it was smooth sailing to the island for three days of learning adventure.
The early fall days were bright, sunny, and perfect for learning on land and sea. We enjoyed snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking in Toyon Bay on the east side of the island, north of the city of Avalon. It was fabulous. With an abundance of wildlife- especially deer, Catalina California quail, and evidence of foxes, not to mention the sharks that frequented the waters by the pier in the mornings- along with rugged scenery, there was much to do and see.
It wasn’t always like this though. When the island was first formed by the volcanic activity off the coast and geologic uplift, there wasn’t an abundance of biodiversity. Over time, plants carried on the wind and animals that scientists think floated on driftwood to the island, adapted to life in their new environs. It would have been a challenge to survive in an area that while surrounded by ocean, has few sources in terms of fresh water sources. Still life does find a way, and for millennia, plants, animals, and humans have thrived on the island.
Today, there are still challenges. California’s lingering drought has plagued the island. The abundance of deer we saw looked to be rather unhealthy, the result of the overpopulation of this invasive species who have no natural predators on the island and lack of food thanks to the prolonged drought. While the kids felt a little bad for the emaciated deer, this was a great opportunity to see those principles of ecology in action. I was very thankful that we all had the opportunity to go to learn in an outdoor setting, and for anyone considering an outdoor science school, I would ten-out-of-ten recommend. And in all honesty, I learned a ton on the trip too!
For more information about Catalina and its wildlife, check out the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Most of the information in this post was taught by the Catalina Island Marine Institute.