Just eighteen miles off the coast of Los Angeles lay Santa Catalina Island, one of the largest island nature reserves in the world. With over 74 square miles of breathtaking landscape, Catalina Island is one of the most valuable natural resources in California.
Mountain and Sea Adventures (MSA) has been running youth programs on the island since 1998, and continues to bring thousands of students from around the Southwest to Catalina Island every year. Spending time in this beautiful ecological preserve gives youth a personal first-hand experience of the natural world, and from there – a personal appreciation and love develops. If it is true that we only preserve what we love, then MSA’s program is instrumental in providing the very experiences which inspire that very love for the natural environment in their hearts.
The Splendid Natural Beauty and Wonder of Emerald Bay
MSA runs their program at one of the most desirable and ecological diverse coves on Catalina Island, Emerald Bay. The facilities are just as impressive as the scenic beauty both inside and outside the beautiful emerald colored water. Resources such as the Pennington Marine Science Center, which has a salt water aquarium with displays of all the major ecosystems surrounding Emerald Bay, as well as multiple touch tanks, microscope labs and classrooms.
Surrounding Emerald Bay is the natural beauty of the ecological reserve, maintained by the Catalina Island Conservancy, with endless scenic views of untouched island coastline, rolling chaparral hills, and an abundance of wildlife such as Catalina Island Fox (endemic only to this island), mule deer, bison, and a wide variety of marine and terrestrial birds, including bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, ravens, and rare migratory birds that travel thousands of miles such as arctic terns.
Why Children Love Environmental Science
One of the reasons Catalina Island is such a popular and desirable location to take groups and classes for the camp experience is because it is just remote enough to feel like they have left the country (kids often times think this!), but yet they are still in a safe, protected and well-connected, yet rustic location.
Camp is a safe place where students can let their guard down and just ‘be kids’. They are free to play and discover how fun and exciting the world of natural science really is! Camp program is always an adventure, and the line between ‘academic’ and ‘recreational’ time becomes less and less clear. That is because learning is fun, and all it takes is placing children in the right conditions for that realization to take place for them.
Outdoor Education Imparts A Love For The Natural Environment
When ‘play time’ becomes ‘learning time’, and vice versa, students are ready to apply themselves and participate in the outdoor educational program activities with greater interest and enjoyment, and therefore gain much more from it. With this total interest, students are immersed into their environment, and with the tools given to them during the lecture phase by their instructor – they are able to observe and interact with their surroundings like true field biologists.
Such full immersion into the awe-inspiring beauty of an ecological preserve like Catalina Island imparts the type of appreciation and love for the environment that transforms the student’s perspective for life.
Outdoor education is unique in its capacity to ignite a love for the environment, not only do students immerse themselves in the great outdoors through the activities, but they are taught valuable information regarding the various animals they may encounter, as well as a method for observing, recording data and studying them.
Students are both fully immersed and fully attentive, learning to observe their environment like field scientists. They then take their observations back to their outdoor classroom and develop testable hypothesis. In this way, the scientific method becomes a tool for taking their personal immersion into the natural world deeper and deeper.
Protecting What We Love
With such a rich personal experience of the natural world, students are often moved towards increasing their efforts to be more environmentally conscious and friendly. Those experiences at camp become deeply cherished memories, resulting in a deep love for these preserved places in nature. The vital importance of conserving them becomes increasingly more apparent.