Citizen Science

3 Tried And True Ways To Turn Your Students Into Scientist

13631544_1062929037117456_7422598147543401713_nThe very moment each participant arrives at Mountain and Sea Adventures (MSA) camp, they are immersed into a world of scientific exploration and discovery. The hands-on approach MSA embraces gives each student the opportunity to learn from experience and apply their observations towards developing their own hypothesis and theories. In this light, science becomes a part of their living and breathing reality, it is no longer an impersonal academic subject – but a method they can use to immerse themselves deeper and deeper into the natural world that surrounds them.

After nearly twenty years of teaching environmental science to students around the world, MSA has noticed a few core components for inspiring a personal love and appreciation for science in the hearts of students.

Here are the three main ways you can encourage your students to think and interact with the world like scientist.:

  1. The Field Journal.

credit-AnneFMaben8The field journal is the way a scientist organizes their observations in the field, together with their own notes and ideas, to notice patterns in the subject of their research and develop insight.

When students are taught to keep a field journal, they often times develop a very close bond with it, and see the potential it has to become a great tool and resource in not only their scientific investigations, but in many other ways, as well. Students whom learn the value of keeping a field journal are much more likely to keep better notes during classes and perform better academically.

  1. Applying the Scientific Method To Develop A Theory.

The field journal is a tool to implement the scientific method towards your own research projects. The scientific method is the theory behind the practices and techniques used in the field. When students gain a personal understanding of the scientific method it fuels their imaginations and enriches their interactions with the natural world, which has now transformed into their own personal laboratory for exploring curiosity and developing ideas.

  1. Field Research Activities.

Once the field journal is ready and an understanding of the scientific method has been imparted, the final component is to get your hands dirty. The field is the final frontier in science. By creating the opportunity for your students to develop their curiosity and a natural phenomenon in their surroundings, you can allow your pupils to realize that the whole world can become the field for conducting scientific investigation.

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Where Scientists Are Born: Marine Biology Youth Camp on Catalina Island

Marine Biology Youth Camp

Catalina Island is a magical destination and one of the most rich and abundant natural resources in California. When visiting Catalina Island, which is less than twenty miles off short Los Angeles, students have the opportunity to participate in a wide range to educational and adventurous marine biology activities, such as snorkeling at one of the most desirable locations in the world, kayaking, dissecting squid, trawling for plankton and then observing them beneath microscopes, hiking the various trails that surround the camp, and lots more!

While snorkeling students get to see Garibaldi, opaleye, kelp bass, leopard sharks, shovelnose guitarfish, as well as the occasional seal, sea lion and/or dolphin visit! On land students may seem several endemic species of birds and mammals such as the quail, ground squirrel and fox.

The Natural Beauty of Catalina Island

Catalina Island is seventy-four miles of ecological preserve, with some of the most breathtaking landscape in California. Marine biology youth camp at Catalina Island is a rare and extremely valuable opportunity to immerse your students in the unspoiled beauty of nature.

With forty-eight miles of coastline, Catalina Island has a seemingly endless variety of marine and terrestrial habitats. There is an abundant of plant and wildlife, which makes this an ideal location to impart a passion for learning natural science and use the scientific method to explore nature, and arrive at your own conclusions and theories.

Learning To Observe The World Like A Field Biologist

For those interested in marine biology, camp at Catalina Island is the perfect chance to develop that interest and ‘try out’ life as an actual marine biologist field scientist. Students learn to keep a field journal and are taught to observe the world around them through the eyes of a scientist.

This full immersion into natural sciences sparks a deep love and appreciation for marine biology, and many do end up going back home and pursuing an higher education academic goal.

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The Life Changing Impact of Environmental Science Youth Camp On Catalina Island

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.

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The Facts About Human Impact On Coral Reefs

Anthropogenic Factors Causing Harm to Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are known to be home to most of the world’s fish species, with these being known as hotspots of biodiversity. On top of that, both reef-living fish and most pelagic, open-ocean fish spawn in coral reefs, becoming the prime source of the fishing industry. Coral reefs also fixate dissolved nitrogen, making it accessible in the marine food chain, and ultimately contributed to fish biomass that the fishing industry hungrily seeks. However, not all of human efforts contribute to the benefit if the coral reefs, despite it being a vital aspect of our economy and biology. Besides the obvious effects of pollution, here are some of the anthropogenic activities that directly and indirectly detriment the world’s coral reefs.

Destructive Fishing Practices

These are the anthropogenic acts that directly cause physical damage to coral reefs as a means for a greater catch. These include, but are not limited to, bottom trawling and the use of explosives.

Bottom Trawling

Bottom trawling involves the dragging of heavily weighted nets on the ocean floor, indiscriminately raking benthic organisms, including age-old and slow-growing corals. Larger fishing vessels employ this method to efficiently and effectively catch large amounts of fish in as little time and concern for the environment as possible. Naturally, this method is unsustainable, as fish would lose their spawning sites and habitat faster than it would regrow, effectively inhibiting the repopulation of the fish of the area.

Usage of Explosives

Explosives are used in small to medium-scale fishing, as these methods are less efficient than bottom trawling, but does not require the use of large fishing vessels. Explosives are primarily used to cause shockwaves aimed at destroying the calcareous structure of corals, and secondarily to destroy the fishes’ swim bladders. These two added results would then give these reckless fishermen an easy catch.

Side-Effects of Industry

Does the term “agricultural runoff” sound familiar? Chemical compounds used in agriculture, such as fertilizers and pesticides, are “run off” to sea, as an accident or an intentional endeavor to use the world’s oceans as a waste pond. These chemical compounds foreign to the coral reef ecosystem cause disruption by either the killing off or causing the uncontrollable growth of certain organisms. As such, the natural nutrient cycle is disrupted, or the overriding of algae causes the stifling of resources for other organisms.

Introduction of Chemical Compounds that Directly Cause Mortality

Let us first provide examples of the effects of introducing large amounts of foreign chemical compounds to the coral reefs that immediately lead to death of certain organisms. For example, a farmer’s waste pond full of herbicide overflowed due to excessive torrential rains, and drained to a nearby river, which eventually led to the ocean. The large amounts of would immediately cause the death of phytoplankton and sea grass communities. Oil spills will cause the reduction of light reaching the benthos, stifling the corals’ zooxanthellae of their and their host’s means to survive, grow, and reproduce.


Now, we illustrate the effects of the introduction of large amounts of nutrients to coral reef waters, which is also known as “nutrient loading”. First, we consider that algae are competitors of corals in substrate and light. Also, algae grow and multiply at a much faster rate than corals. Why don’t algae naturally dominate coral reefs? It is because coral reefs are low-nutrient environments. Now, the introduction of nutrients to these coral reefs would then cause the rise of the biomass of algae in the area, which is also known as “algal bloom”, which subsequently stifles the resources needed by corals, leading to the reduction in the population of corals and all other organisms depending on them, and ultimately leading to the phase shift of the community.


The increase in the amount of sediments suspended in the water column will trigger corals to secrete mucus in order to rid themselves of sediment. However, the corals will use up valuable energy in doing so, making them more vulnerable to disease and would slow their growth. Also, in the even of the coral not secrete enough mucus to get the sediment off fast enough, then the light going down the water column will be again restricted, yet another stress for the corals. Lastly, sediment will smother the coral, and will prevent the entry of the suspended particles corals do need to survive; food.

The increased amount of suspended sediment in the water column may be attributed to natural causes, wherein sediment upwelled by water currents as a natural part of reef ecology and healthily adds optimal amounts of nutrients to the reef, and by anthropological activities, which usually leads to the negative effects mentioned above. This may include the activities that, as a side-effect, causes nearby land to be more vulnerable to erosion, such as deforestation and mangrove-cutting and the activities that directly add sediment to the waters, such as the dumping of land from construction projects.


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Inspiring Youth To Protect The Oceans

11811454_876124882464540_7186074118662348853_nWith all of the recent talk about protecting the oceans, there is increasingly more and more momentum to learn what we can do to help from our coastal and inland communities. People are rallying together to end practices that are devastating to the environment; despite all of the conservation laws that are on the books, there are still practices that are used which damage the oceans and destroy fisheries.

Most people learn more effectively if they experience something first hand. That’s why Mountain and Sea Adventures provides experiential learning programs for their students, along with teachers and chaperones who want to learn more about ocean conservation.

The four major oceans on the planet are home to diverse and distinctive ocean creatures. These animals are simply not just the usual fishes or whales we know, but also cephalopods, crustaceans, plants, and even birds. Some of these creatures are on the brink of extinction and many are endangered due to negative human impacts on the marine environment.

In order for the abundantly and extremely valuable resource of the ocean to be around for future generations it is important we make sure that we are taking actions that are sustainable and do not allow for bad practices to continue negatively affecting the oceans.

Power of The Dollar

As consumers, we all need to make the shift to promoting ocean conservation by reducing our plastic consumption, using biodegradable products, and picking seafood that was harvested or raised in a manner that helps the oceans to rebuild instead of destroying them.

Individuals and some organizations, have contributed greatly in the efforts to save our oceans. However, while their works are helpful, they cannot do it alone. People like you and I have to do our part in protecting this diverse ecosystem.

There is also a great amount of damage that gets done to the oceans with the usage of industrial fishing techniques. Many sea creatures find that their habitats are being destroyed. The good news is that there are more and more options for sustainable seafood for folks who want to be eating from the sea in a responsible manner.

So, what can individuals do in order to help save the ocean? First, we should encourage awareness by studying and sharing ocean facts. Education and learning will encourage awareness, which in turn will promote its preservation. Academic institutions and organizations have conducted substantial studies of different ocean conditions, and information is widely accessible for those who want to learn more about this and contribute to finding viable solutions.

In addition to that, it’s always best to start when young, that’s why parents and teachers should take their kids/students to environmental educational programs that are focused on imparting a love for conservation.

MSA’s programs offer youth useful and fun environmental education activities that students will find incredibly interesting to learn. Kids, teens as well as parents and teachers, can get up close and personal with the marine environment when they attend our programs at Catalina Island or Camp Oakes, Big Bear. It is an adventurous program that is both educational and enjoyable for everyone.

Single Use Plastics Are A Thing Of The Past

The importance of bottle water cannot be overlooked. Please think for a moment about how many people you saw today with a bottle of water and then think of that on a global scale. Those bottles alone would create a staggering pile of dump. Buying a reusable water bottle from the store and filling it up at home from a larger bottle will not only save you money but it will decrease the amount of plastic products purchased on a regular basis if everyone does so. This not only cuts down on garbage but it cuts down on petroleum based consumption. Plastic products are not biodegradable and will not go away with time but we can shrink the numbers of them in our landfills and in our oceans by not purchasing as many of them.

Another easy way to cut down on waste products is to carry reusable shopping bags. How many times a week do you go to the store and walk out with more than you even planned to purchase. Filling more plastic bags than you can use, and in turn creating more waste than necessary.

Ocean Awareness in Your Yard and Landscape

Runoff from the streets goes somewhere, does it not? In coastal areas more times than not, it goes to watersheds and ends up in the ocean. When you walk down the street, clean out your garage regularly, or wash your car in the driveway always be conscious of what goes down the gutters.

If you see trash when out in your neighbourhood do not forget to pick it up. You are taking care of your home and our planet by doing so. Millions of pieces of garbage are unnecessarily allowed to float their way to the coast and add to a growing pollution problem in the oceans.

We can all make a difference and every little bit does count even if it not evident at times. Always reuse resources that can be reused and cut down on those that you do not need to consume. You can also look into supporting many non-profits organisations that support education, conservation, and environmental protection. The “Gyre” of waste in the Pacific is just one example of marine pollution that exists today. Mountain and Sea Adventures (MSA) educates thousands of students from the southern California area every year.

Do not forget that this planet is our home and it will only remain a healthy and beautiful place if we all take steps to conserve and foster conservation and environmental concern in those around us. Take the time to make a difference and be conscious of the choices you make today knowing they do have an impact on all of us and other organisms that call this blue planet home.


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What Is El Nino Weather Pattern and Why Is It Important To You!?

549002_512061565537542_1768043809_nThe El Nino weather pattern is usually characterized by abnormal warming of the waters around the month of January. We see images of dried-up wells, cracked form grounds, as well as resulting periods of long drought.

There is also a rise in temperature, which in turn creates a change in the weather conditions with sometimes cause some serious environmental and even economic impacts. In the sequence when trade winds die out and ocean waters become unusually warm, an El Nino weather pattern occurs worldwide.

El Nino is can be clearly defined as “a disruption of the ocean atmosphere system in the tropical pacific having some important consequences for weather and climate around the world” as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It has a significant effect on both the Atlantic and Pacific hurricane frequency with an average duration lasting between nine to twelve months in the year. It occurs infrequently which cannot be predicted, somewhere between every two to seven years. Some refer to it as “Godzilla” due to its possible effects on climate change.

Among the climactic effects of El Nino are shifts in the standard paths of typhoons, causing draughts in some regions, and even flooding at other regions. Most times El Nino had partly been blamed for the forest and brush fires in some countries. Even some temperate regions are not left out from this change of weather patterns as countries like US, Canada, Japan and Korea. Their winter months have been generally reported to be colder than usual and with higher than normal snowfall.

A lesser known fact about El Nino is that it actually slows the rotation of the earth by affecting air currents surrounding the globe. But do not worry! It’s only by an extremely small fraction of it and not enough to change your daily routine, nor can it affect things such as how an airplane flies.

In reality El Niño is just one phase of a two phase system. La Niña is the counterpart to El Niño, yet receives much less attention. Therefore the oscillations of temperature anomalies asymmetrically bare the name el Niño. Historically la Niña has proven to be more consistent which makes weather-men happy because they get to be right more often than usual.

Why is it important to me?

Regardless of where you may live in the world, you may experience a drier or wetter climate than usual due to the El Niño weather patterns. If you live near a coastal region, hurricanes or tropical storms could impact your life more during the next year.

Is it only all about the ocean?              

Off course, with 71% of the earth’s surface covered with water and 96.5% of that water are held in our oceans, it would be a hard argument to dispute the effect water has on our general climate. El Nino is a proven fact to this not a theory, however, theories do abound with scientists on exactly how this weather phenomenon works.

The Effects


The Peruvian anchoveta fishery, which is the biggest single species fishery in the world, typically collapses during El Niño events. In normal years, several million metric tons of fish are harvested from this region off the coast of countries like Peru. But during months like December, January and February, it is unlikely the fish are going to be abundant, which will have devastating impacts on the economy and industries that depend on the anchoveta fishery.

Also off the coast of North America, there will be declines in some fish stocks, specifically in the cold water fish stocks, like anchovy, that are important prey for a lot of species of fishes like tuna, whales, sea birds, seals and sea lions. So the loss of the anchovy off North America will also impact those higher predators too in the chain.

For most people, the Spanish words El Nino (“little child”) and La Nina (“little girl”) are simple, nice and harmless words. Who would have thought they mean agricultural trouble rising temperatures and erratic weather patterns? However, weather patterns associated with El Nino and La Nina have completely changed the coffee growing season in Peru. This single weather fluctuation is Peru’s challenge and a big reason why this country struggles to be a leading coffee world producer.

What About Impacts For Beach-Goers And Coastal Communities?

Thanks to El Niño, beachgoers have more to worry about than shark attacks and a deluge of sewage and plastic as highly venomous sea snakes are usually washing ashore too. Sea snakes do not travel well on land and it’s hurting more wildlife than just one scary snake.

Also thousands of crabs have found their way to shore in beaches in this period. Prompted to travel north owing to El Niño–triggered warm weather, the crabs struggle out of water, leaving the beaches coated in dead red crustaceans.

Seabirds are also affected as they begin to die at an alarming rate at the seashores. As a result the waters has pushed the fish deeper into cold waters, and the birds simply can’t reach them.

How El Nino Effects Pelagic Sea Life

A host of marine animals feed on phytoplankton, including whales, jellyfish, and shrimp. As El Niño weakens upwelling of cool nutrient rich water to the ocean surface, the amount of phytoplankton decreases for them to eat. Because phytoplankton make up the bottom of the oceans food web, decreased supplies affect not only the fish that eat them but those animal predators as well. The appearance of dangerous animals like hammerhead sharks due to an increased hunt for food sources, mainly smaller fish and squid.

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An Introduction To Citizen Science

Citizen Science Definition

Because scientific advances are happening faster than ever these days, it is increasingly more popular and important for the average member of society to contribute to the on going research and discoveries being made in nearly every field daily.

250354_155784427831926_7442142_nThe phrase ‘citizen science’ can apply to a wide range of concepts from a generalized idea of public engagement in scientific endeavors to the pursuits of scientist in the interest of the public good and benefit. Here we define citizen science as the involvement of any member of society in conducting scientific experiments that are of interest to the greater good of the community.

As an example, the avid beach goer who walks along the low tide line to explore the tidepools may wish to begin documenting and researching their frequently visited ecosystems in order to notice any sudden or on-going changes they may have seen over the years.

Why is Citizen Science Important?

Science is progressing at such an alarming rate that everyone can now benefit from the fantastic achievements being made in the areas of technology, medicine, business, recreation and nearly every other area of life. However, because of the demand for collecting data from a wide demographic, the average individual can contribute a lot back to the world of science, as well.

The more that people blog, make YouTube videos, and share their ideas with each other, the faster scientific concepts can develop, be implemented and improved. With the ability to share information being just as fast as it is to receive information, the world of citizen science is fast becoming a great resource for the global scientific community.

Benefits of Citizen Science

Citizen science brings a sense of unity to the community. It allows like-minded people to get together to advance their own research and collaborate with each other. Citizens can begin to work as a group to improve their communities, acting with the efficiency of scientist.

Citizen science empowers students with a sense of self importance, knowing that they are able to contribute and have an important role in real life science. In this sense, citizen science helps to build character and self-esteem in youth.

Another benefit of citizen science is understanding that research isn’t just for the scientist. We should all care about our local environment, and seek to understand the issues that affect us more deeply.

Citizen Science Projects

There are endless projects and events you can join in, the Zooniverse and Scistarter are great resources for getting started with some projects.

Recently Mountain and Sea Adventures has launched a citizen scientist social media project that allows people to share their ocean discoveries using hashtag #oceanwatch. People can share announcements of rare sightings, discoveries and important reports on the marine environment.

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