University of Southern California

QuikSCience Catalina Expedition 2013

First Place Winners daily blog of the Catalina Expedition:
USC Wrigley Marine Science Center, Catalina Island

High Tech High School
June 3-June 10, 2013

Day One – Monday, June 3, 2013
Catalina Island – Wrigley Marine Science Center USC Wrigley Marine Science Center tour and touch tank species identification, snorkeling at Big Fishermen’s Cove, algae pressing, and a sunset hike.

High Tech High - Meet the Winning TEAM

Kathryn - Our team started our journey to Catalina. When we finally reached the island at a little after 9 am we settled into our dorm rooms and changed for our first snorkel on the island at Big Fisherman Cove. We got to see first hand the beauty that the ocean holds. We saw Leopard Sharks, Bat Rays, Garibaldi, many forms of algae and more. My favorite part of the day was when we went on a short hike and were able to view the entire harbor. We spent the hike finding images in the cacti and taking in the orange shades of light that the sunset cast a spell of wonder over the entire island.

Sabyn - Today was super fun! Waking up at 4:00 AM was not the best, since I'm not a morning person. But we had to get up really early so we could make it to San Pedro on time from San Diego. The boat ride was rough, but once we got to Catalina and stepped on the dock, it was like a breath of fresh air (literally!) We got situated in our rooms and took a tour of the institute grounds. We saw a couple labs that the students at USC use and a touch tank where we were able to touch all types of sea animals that hang around in tide pools and the shore area. Then we had lunch and put on our gear to go snorkeling. The water was freezing cold, but the sea life was so cool to look at. Even though I started turning blue I was so glad I stayed in as long as I did. After dinner the little island foxes were hanging around the patio. Then we went on a beautiful sunset hike at the top of one of the hills overlooking the Wrigley Institute. Even though I was so tired all day, it was so much fun. I can't wait to experience the rest of this trip on a good night's sleep!

Ramiz - I was really excited to go to Catalina and I slept only for 3 hours. Then came the long trip to the SCMI. The boat was a little choppy but it was something new and really exciting. When we arrived to the Island, the first thing we did was touch tanks. It was really cool because I touched a swell shark and held a sea cucumber. After that we went for a snorkel. I was really scared at first but after awhile I really started to enjoy the water and I saw a lot of sharks. This was my favorite part. Dinner was also really good and the little foxes always amaze me. The day finished off with a hike around the mountains. Overall it was a really fun day and I look forward to tomorrow.

Shaida - It was a crazy day waking up early at 4:00 am and driving down to the port. When we arrived, we got a cool tour around the campus and got to touch different organisms in the touch tank ,which was very cool, and my favorite was the sea cucumber. I really enjoyed snorkeling and the leopard shark was really cool to see. Throughout the day we saw this little fox hanging around. Then after dinner we took a nice hike and saw a beautiful sunset. Today was really fun and exciting.

Matt Leader, QuikSCience Team Advisor - What an amazing way to start the trip with lots of laughs on the early boat ride over. I got to meet a great teacher from The Port of LA School and chat about classes and projects. Right off the bat we were greeted with a tour of the labs and interacted with a diverse touch tank. My favorite was definitely the Red Sea Urchin. I loved the lunch and knew I'd have to pace myself as there was too much good food. We then snorkeled and it was one of the coolest snorkels I had ever done. I've been diving in many places including Indonesia, the Caribbean and Hawaii and being that close with literally dozens of leopard sharks cannot be beat. Observing the differences in the patterns and behavior was something I could do all day, every day. After the snorkel, algae pressing, another great meal and an evening hike was a great way to cap off day one. Catalina island is so close to LA, but seems so far away. We had about fifteen seconds of quiet in the middle of the hike and it was a very peaceful fifteen seconds that I will not soon forget. 

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Day Two – Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Island Adventure to Two Harbors, Avalon, Wrigley Memorial Botanical Gardens, pedal boats in the harbor, and dock jumping with flying fish and sea lions

Kathryn - Today we set off to the city of Avalon in a car ride that was unexpectedly bumpy because the only road is winding and unpaved. The city of Avalon was breathtaking with streets lined with colorful houses, small cars and golf carts. As we walked down the streets we made our way over to the pier and embarked on small pedal boats. Sabyn and I took off laughing as we created our own racecourse, slowly pedaling around buoys like a car weaving in and out of caution cones. Then after finishing the course we started playing bumper boats! Personally I think we were the best at it. After a fun filled day, we drove back to the Wriggly Institute and swam in Big Fisherman's Cove.

Sabyn - Today we went to different towns throughout Catalina Island. We started out in Two Harbors for a quick stop in the gift shop. Then we continued on the hour and a half drive on unpaved dirt roads going 20 mph towards the quaint little town of Avalon. It reminded me of a mixture between Hawaii with the island beach vibe, and the shores and pier of San Francisco. We went to the Wrigley Memorial Botanical Gardens, which (like its name states) originally held William Wrigley Jr. in a sarcophagus, but was moved from the island to LA during WWII and never returned. The memorial was beautiful, and so were all the different plants in the gardens. Then we toured the town and did pedal-boating in the harbor. After dinner, we decided to jump off the dock (which was freezing cold!) But it was all worth it, because we got to watch a sea lion feed on flying fish by making them fly into the side of the dock. We saw that happen three times, and Mr. Leader even caught one of them! Today was such a busy and fun day, I can't wait for the rest of this trip.

Ramiz - Today we went to Avalon and although I found it to be really small and crowded I still enjoyed it. I bought some Stance socks from a small skate shop in the area and they were really cool. After that we came back to Wrigley and decided to take a quick dive and it was a little cold. After that we saw some flying fish fly into the dock and a sea lion would devour them! In all, this was the best part and I really enjoyed today.

Shaida - We arrived at Avalon and went on paddle boat, which was very fun and I left my partner to do most of the work. Then walking around the shops was really cool. My highlight for the day was seeing the sea lion catch the flying fish. The sea lion would be on the other side and swim so fast to eat the flying fish. We all jumped into the water, which was really cold, but I got used to it.

Matt Leader, QuikSCience Team Advisor - Avalon today. After a great breakfast we embarked on a beautiful drive through Catalina. We stopped to see views of bison, deer and amazing scenery. Terri did a great job of navigating the windy mountain roads and we really bonded on the way. I loved the endemic plants in the botanical gardens and we learned a lot about the geology and natural history of the island. We went pedal boating around the harbor. It was hilarious as we tried to maneuver around yachts. Afterwards we ate, shopped and had a very relaxing introduction to the bustle of an island town. The highlight of my day happened during an evening swim. We went down to the dock and when we were swimming around happened upon a huge male sea lion fishing for flying fish. It was the most amazing thing to see him coax the fish to fly into the dock and stun themselves before he swam over to pluck them from the water. It is so exciting to watch. A couple landed on the dock and I promptly scooped them up to put back in the water only to see other fish and the sea lion go for them. The flying fish are unique creatures unlike anything else. It was a real treat.

DJ - After dinner, we went for a quick dip in the Cove and to our surprise there was a sea lion very close to us. We watched it for a while and out of nowhere a flying fish flies into the dock, stuns itself and then gets eaten by the sea lion. We got out of the water and waited for the sea lion to put on another show which he did about 2 more times, and then the students left. Matt Leader, Terri and I stayed to clean up and all of a sudden a flying fish flew up on the dock and was flopping around. Five minutes later, another flying fish lands on the dock! Matt picks it up, and we open its wings and photograph it up close. It was surreal! Thanks, Mr. Sea Lion, for providing us with this once in a lifetime experience. 

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Day Three – Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Wrigley Marine Science Center – Kayaking to Two Harbors and Fourth of July Cove, Plankton towing and identification of day and night samples, Snorkeling at Big Fisherman Cove, Laboratory tour with a Researcher named Becky and making Sushi with seafood awareness.


Kathryn - Today we kayaked from Big Fisherman's Cove to the end of Two Harbor. On our way we broke into a "battle of the boats" and everyone became drenched in seawater. After we returned from our 2 hour kayak, our team jumped into the frigid water and Shaida and I were called crazy when we went in without our wetsuits.. I found Navanax, which we picked up. The Sea Slug felt soft and its skin was colorful. The Navanax was so beautiful I am so happy I spotted it, because it made my day.

Sabyn - We started off kayaking around Two Harbors where we raced and splashed each other. We looked at the diatomaceous rocks and cool lava flow formations, and looked at harbor seals up close (or at least as legally close as we could get). When we got back, we did a plankton tow and saved the samples for looking at under the microscope later today. We went snorkeling again. It was sunny out, but the water was pretty choppy. I stayed in longer than yesterday though, so I was proud of myself. Kathryn and Shaida were crazy and went in without wetsuits. A researcher in one of the labs named Becky went snorkeling with us and afterward took us on a tour through her lab. The research they do is super interesting, and all the tips she gave about were helpful for me, since I'm considering going into that field. Then we talked about the types of fish that are good to eat environmentally due to overfishing and pollution, and then made our own sushi. The sushi was suuuuper tasty! We just finished doing a night plankton tow, and now we are looking at those samples under microscopes and seeing the difference between organisms that come out at night. These past few days have been so jam-packed with things to do!

Ramiz - The day began with kayaking. We went around the coast and saw different things like harbor seals and kelp forests. Shaida was trying to make us go into a cave that was above sea level. Next came lunch and it was really delicious Italian food. After that we saw some plankton and miniature jellyfish. In the end the day was really fun and I look forward to tomorrow.

Shaida - Today started off it some kayaking and was very fun. It was a bit chilly today and the waves were pretty choppy. Then we went snorkeling for a bit and Kathryn found a sea slug. We had to count how many garibaldis there were and I found 7 today. After the snorkeling we took a tour with one of the PhD student looking at physiology of Oyster larva. Then we all learned how to make Sushi which was very tasty. Now we are looking at different plankton and sketching them out in our journals.

Matt Leader, QuikSCience Team Advisor - There were many great parts of the day today but I'll jump right into my favorite. We had an amazing tour of the lab from the PhD candidate Becky Sawyer. She was very engaging and kept the students on their feet with difficult and interesting questions and demonstrations. I was like a kid in the candy store hearing about the research going on at the Marine Laboratory. I especially liked hearing about what a normal day looks like in the lab and the different roles that a graduate student can play. They are observers, engineers, writers, teachers and divers. After the tour and dinner we had a great time looking at plankton from both daytime and nighttime tows under the microscope. It's a totally different world that the students had never seen. I heard screams of surprise, glee, and laughter at the sight of the microscopic alien world. Copepods, amphipods, worms and other larvae jump in and out of view and one by one we tried to identify them. I loved it.

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Day Four – Thursday, June 6, 2013
Pennington Marine Science Center in Emerald Bay, hike to Parson's Landing, look at sand samples from Catalina and around the world.


Kathryn - Pennington Marine Science Center in Emerald Bay, hike to Parson's Landing, look at sand samples from Catalina and around the world.

Sabyn - Today was more of a relaxing day.

Ramiz - We began the day with a delicious breakfast of eggs and potatoes. Then we hung out around the dining hall and played a little ping-pong. We went to Emerald Bay Boys Scout Camp and saw some octopuses and moral eels. Then we went to Parson's Landing and I fell asleep on the beach. It was really beautiful and I hope we could do it again. Then the night ended with a ping-pong, I lost a bet and I had to paint my pinky nail. I am still trying to scratch it off.. Ramiz out.

Shaida - My highlight of the day was challenging Ramiz with a ping pong challenge and our bet was that I could paint his pinky nail. Of course won the challenge and got to paint his nail sparkly pink. Another highlight of my day was hiking in Emerald Bay and we relaxed on the beach.

Matt Leader, QuikSCience Team Advisor - Terri led us on a wonderful adventure through the west end of Catalina today. Getting there is a trip as it's a steep, windy road. Terri did a great job of navigating the hairpin curves even though I'm not too fond of heights. The hike from Emerald Bay to the beautiful beach at Parson's Landing made me think we were wandering through the wild west and about to find get a first view of the Pacific Ocean. We crossed over the ridge and saw one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. We relaxed and took in the salty air and took part in my favorite pastime, finding snakes. We didn't have any luck but it was a great time as there could be something under any rock. The walk back was filled with song and memories that I'll never forget.

DJ -

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Wrigley Marine Science Center –
Meet the Second place winning teams!
North Hollywood Zoo Magnet, Team #1
Rancho San Joaquin, Team #2

Day Five – Friday, June 7, 2013
Kayaking, Plankton tow and viewing under microscopes, Snorkeling, Bioluminescence video, and Fish printing.

Kathryn - Today set off on a long kayaking trip. We kayaked all the way to Blue Cavern, where Sabyn and I kayaked through a cavern that reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean. Then we kayaked over to bird rock, where we surveyed the little island for bird populations. Returning to Wrigley, we met the new arrivals and went snorkeling. It was a tiring but interesting day.

Ramiz - The most interesting part about today was the group snorkeling. I was really cool to go out with a lot of people and seeing all the different animals.

Shaida - Today my favorite part was laying in the sun at the dock and taking pictures.

Wildon - Snorkeling was so amazing. I loved swimming through the kelp, and seeing all the fish, as well as the sharks and bat rays. One shark I saw was pretty big; almost the size of my brother. I jumped off the pier four times and it was very entertaining to me. 

Kylie - During our plankton tow today, one of the team members was assaulted by a flying fish whilst on the dock. After taking time to examine it, we threw it back, it flew in every direction, and when it finally seemed to glide for miles. We also went snorkeling and saw a fish that could not go beneath the surface due to an extremely inflated air bladder. It was very sad because it was going to die, but it was fascinating to see nature and chemistry in action.

Hazel - I had a fantastic boat ride that consisted of sleeping and not getting seasick. Thank you Bonine! Getting off the boat, we were bombarded with a school of flying fish and the sea lions put on a show for us. They corralled the flying fish into a pod and then chased them into the dock where some flew out of the water and right in front of me. I got to hold one of the flying fish! The fun continued as we went snorkeling. It was amazing. We saw multiple types of fish, sharks, and bat rays. They swam right under our flippers! It has been a long day, but definitely worth the effort.

Andres - The highlight of my day, the real time of day that got me excited, was to go snorkeling with the animals we had recently been touching in a touch tank. I can already tell this is gonna be an experience with delicious memories.

Mr. Andres Sr. Chaperone for Zoo Magnet - We had an experience where the coast guard landed on the helipad, many speculated to have been an injured diver, ufff !!! it was practice, what a relief!

Aurnov - After sliding down the hard wooden dock, I plunged into the cool, salty seawater; and I found myself tangled in a forest of kelp, surrounded by a school of brilliantly colored Garibaldi. The experience of swimming along side sea animals made the idea of marine life tangible; as I found myself adventuring between crevices of coral, zig-zagging between a quagmire of pillars below the pier, in complete awe by the fascination of observing the juxtaposition of the sea anemone and sandy bottom.

Kanyes - Today I found myself in the midst of a spectacular show of brilliant cobalt flying fish being snatched from their spray-filled flight by playful sea lions. Instantly my imagination was captured with all that was possible in the vast treasury of nature's bag of tricks. During the day snorkel, I was mesmerized by the intricate patterns of frolicking leopard sharks and lazily swimming kelp bass as I paddled through the cold lapping of the sea. At the end of the day, I lay tired but excited in anticipation of the massive flood of events I am to face the next morning.

Sandeep - I enjoyed the snorkeling the most. Viewing the spectacular fish and sharks was a truly breathtaking experience. I saw a variety of garibaldis, leopard sharks, blacksmiths, and lobsters. 

Isabelle - Today I was attacked by a barrage of flying fish the moment I set foot upon the wobbly dock. An especially aggressive silver fish launched itself in a frenzy over the wooden planks, narrowly missing my left ear. Talk about a first impression! I was in for an adventure-filled day full of intrigue and new discoveries, from towing and examining microscopic zooplankton to snorkeling with the leopard sharks in the clear blue water. Today, although tiring, was one of the best experiences in my life.

Michelle - Plankton towing was pretty interesting, especially when we got to view the plankton under the microscopes. It helped me understand how tiny ecosystems existed within other larger ecosystems, forming a complex, intricate aquatic biosphere.

Tony - I was petrified to try snorkeling at first, because the water was murky and freezing cold. But after several painful attempts at putting on a wetsuit, I lower myself into the water and realized how amazing it was to see the marine ecosystem up close.


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Day Six and Seven –
Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9, 2013
Wrigley Marine Science Center: Meet the Second place winning teams! High Tech High, Zoo Magnet, Rancho San Joaquin

Kathryn - Soapstone carving on Saturday was fun. I carved out a heart. It was very time-consuming but interesting. Sunday, we went to the beach and I continued carving soap stone hearts. It was very relaxing and calming.

Ramiz - On Saturday the coolest thing we did was the night snorkel. I saw a sea lion, bat ray and a giant kelp fish. At first I was really scared of the water but now I look forward to the next time I go. Sunday we went to the Airport in the Sky and had a delicious dinner. To conclude: I am really glad I joined the QuikSCience team and I have had the time of my life. Ramiz out.

Shaida - My favorite part today was going night snorkeling and seeing the bioluminescence. My wetsuit was super tight but it felt like a Jacuzzi. My favorite part of Sunday was being up on this big mountain - chilling!

Wildon - I saw three Bison, I played a really fun game of soccer, and had a great burger. Other than that, I didn't accomplish very much. I failed at fishing because I couldn't go into deep water. 

Kylie - Saturday was jam-packed with loads of activities. While tide pooling in Two Harbors we not only saw barnacles and other mussels but I caught a glimpse of a camouflaging octopus hiding just inches from my hand. A marine biologist at Wrigley later told me that it was a very rare experience to see them outstretched in a tide pool. I got really scared during the night snorkel but the astounding bioluminescence more than made up for it. Today was calm in comparison to yesterday. We made s'mores on the beach and just relaxed. I had a great time here and my appreciation for nature and aquatic life has definitely grown over the past 3 days. I will remember the people and the experiences for the rest of my life. Thanks, QuikSCience!

Hazel - Saturday was the best day on Catalina. We went night snorkeling in the bioluminescence and although I was scared at first, seeing the spectacular light show calmed my worries. During the snorkel we saw 2 sea lions and a bunch of lobsters, along with a bat ray and a few leopard sharks. On Sunday, we drove around and saw a few of the island's bison. We hiked to a high point and sat there for a bit before playing soccer. It has been a great few days, and it was an experience I will never forget. I met the coolest people and will hold these memories dear to my heart forever.

Andres - Saturday was probably the longest day, but also one of the most interesting by far. Night snorkeling wasn't as cold as I expected considering I put on a hood and kept warm which was good, and the bioluminescence was spectacular. Sunday we saw 3 bison and just chilled at the beach. I love this island and the conservation efforts but transportation takes a very long time, this is just my opinion though. My last time blogging I've just been informed and well, I can and can't wait to get home!

Kimberly Soliday, QuikSCience Team Advisor for Rancho San Joaquin - Today…I was blown away by the bioluminescence in the water. I felt like there were tiny lights all around me as I moved through the water. The hikes and the marine life of the tide pools was amazing. On Sunday, we were able to travel around the island and I finally was able to see bison! The Airport in the Sky had amazing views and we ended the day with a campfire and s'mores.

Aurnov - I was flabbergasted by a flurry of sparkling diatoms that shone all around me as I swam in the dark ocean. It was spectacular to be able to enjoy marine life at night, unlike my expectations the ocean ecosystem is anything but asleep at night. I was surrounded by menacing leopard sharks twirling around kelp, awed by the lobsters on the rugged shore, and tangled by the kelp. I found myself an explorer of the ocean and my flashlight was the torch that illuminated the undiscovered sea floor. On Sunday, I peered through the bus window to find myself looking down upon a sheer cliff as we descended through a dusty path. The highlight of the day was the view as we returned during a perfect sunset, I felt as though the ocean was field of glistening rubies and the clouds veiled the sun. Finally, the purple splattered upon the sky as it transformed into a black pool of endless darkness centered round a crescent moon.

Kanyes - I waded through the frigid waters lapping at the kayak, to splash my way through an ancient volcanic cavern hewn into the mountains of lore. Later I attempted to catch scuttling crabs and watched fluttering sea anemones in the tide pools of the Two Harbors, and trekked through sagebrush and ducked under ancient ironwoods in a dusty hike overlooking the Wrigley Institute. As dusk settled in and the marine layer once again sealed Catalina, I donned my skintight wetsuit to shine my flashlight into the depths of the murky waters. I watched tiny glowing diatoms flutter around my neon fins. I saw huge lobsters stand lazily on the rocks, bat rays float by without a care, and huge leopard and horn sharks fly swiftly through the water below me. As I settled into my chamber to retire, I was amazed at the vast possibilities the natural word offered my ravenous imagination. The next morning I sat in on a lecture on "heavy metal" research at the Wrigley Institute. In Little Harbor, we carved soapstone and played games on the beach, along with splashing in the water. We later dined at the "Airport in the Sky," and in Two Harbors we roasted s'mores. As I concluded my third day at Catalina, I lay tired but happy at the vast array of experiments and majesty the island had to offer.

Isabelle - A chemically lit glow stick lighted my way through the night snorkel, allowing me a panoramic view of the ocean floor. Bat rays slithered along the sand, as lobsters snapped and kelp danced. It was an amazing sight. I enjoyed myself immensely. Today was the epitome of tired joy. The morning started out normally, but my expectations were blown as we had an entire day of freedom and fun in the sun. Jumping the wave, climbing up precarious cliffs, and eating sticky brownies had me exhausted, but utterly jubilant. Very satisfied, I bought buffalo jerky at Airport in the Sky, while chucking mud pies at my fellow QuikSCientists. A beautiful end to a wonderful day. 

Michelle - Bellowing songs in the bus as we jostled around on a dusty road was interesting. Though we might have caused hearing loss and insanity to those around us, in the end, we all laughed hard and snorted uncontrollably for two hours straight. The rest of the day was spent on the trails and splashing my team members with seawater. I believe that the highlight of the day was either bre57aking my teeth on buffalo jerky or attempting to imitate a British accent while flaring my nose.

Tony -

Kay Benitez, QuikSCience Team Advisor for Zoo Magnet - I've only been here for one day, but we've already discovered the unexpected nature that makes Catalina magical. Turquoise waters dotted with saffron colored Garibaldi, golden undulating hills punctuated with vibrantly blooming cacti and cliff side bison overlooking the Pacific. With Terri as our guide, she provided a driving tour of this beautiful island. We left Two Harbors and drove to the boulder-strewn beach at Little Harbor where my students greeted me with sun bronzed faces. We passed an abandoned ranch before arriving at the aviary, housing two eagles: a bald and a golden. Terri and DJ shared the unexpected connection between these two species. The pesticide DDT caused thinning eggshells of the native bald eagle population resulting in decreased population. This left habitat available for the Golden eagle population to fill, but the golden eagle's niche doesn't precisely match that of the bald eagle. Not only feeding on fish, the golden eagles also prey on the native Catalina fox. The foxes also hold other species in check on the island. So increased DDT set a chain of events that altered the Catalina ecosystem. Seeing these powerful birds in person was a reminder of nature's intricate connectedness. We then lunched at the Airport in the Sky and ended the day roasting marshmallows back at Two Harbors, tossing volcanic stones into the sea.

Science is studying the world around you - finding meaning and explanation. What better way to explore and discover than by immersing ourselves in this landscape rich with biodiversity and inspiring beauty. QuikSCience is a remarkable program. Unlike other science competitions that focus heavily on rote memorization of science, QuikSCience challenges students to practice in a non-linear way. Science is not the recipe book, sequential process prescribed by the traditional scientific method. It is creative, dynamic and interdisciplinary like QuikSCience! Students are challenged to observe the problems in the world that inspires them, synthesize new solutions, reach out to their community, make connections with local government, businesses and schools and it encourages them to work in the field.

This Catalina adventure sums up everything that science should be. It's challenged me to become a better teacher. It's challenged my students to look at the world, not as passive observers, but as activists who will make an impact. This experience has enriched and changed out lives forever. Thank you, QuikSCience, DJ and Terri for this amazing experience.

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