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April 19, 2005 > Beach Trekkies, an Alsion adventure

Beach Trekkies, an Alsion adventure

by Manasa Suresh

Overlooking beautiful Point Lobos, we could feel the sun beating down upon our backs. That moment was the beginning of our school trip to Monterey, a week's rendezvous with nature.

At Alsion Montessori Middle/High School we use hands-on experiences to augment classrooms and textbooks. This one-week natural history expedition is designed to help students investigate and experience a distinctive environment of California. The trip not only serves as an introduction to a specific aspect of the natural world, but also provides a framework for academic and social interaction.

Preparation for this year's trip to Monterey Bay was tedious but it paid off in the end. Field microscopes, GPS systems, compasses and other field equipment were packed to study different marine species and coastal land forms. The general feeling at school was mixed, a combination of excitement and nervousness.

On the morning of March 7, traveling by school bus or a teacher's car, all of us turned up at our first destination, A#241;o Nuevo State Reserve, famous for its colony of elephant seals. Watching elephant seals on television is much different from viewing them from as close as five feet away! Our school assignments kept us busy examining flora (plants) and fauna (animals) during our travels. At Ano Nuevo, state rangers were close by to make sure we didn't wander too close to the mammoth beasts. However, through techniques learned at school and tools we constructed, we were able to determine the distance of our group from the seals, their size and estimate the number of elephant seals on the beach. We found many males guarding pups still too young to leave the beach.

Throughout our week of discovery, we were asked to compare information gathered before our trip with what we actually saw. Animal migration patterns and observed flora and fauna were compared to what was observed. We drove south to New Brighton Beach for a bit of fun in the water and barbecue dinner. Following a gorgeous view of New Brighton Beach at sunset, we arrived at a KOA campground and bunked for the night.

To watch whales migrate along the coast, we boarded a boat at Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf. We asked the crew about the boat's tonnage and fuel capacity to estimate its range. Cameras clicked as photographers tried to capture the moment as we searched and located whales. Many of us were soaking wet by the end of the tour.

It was interesting to use mathematic skills to figure the size of Monterey Bay and the estimated number of whales in the bay using a sample population. Point Lobos, known as the "crown jewel of the State Park system," was the next stop and one of my personal favorites. The view was simply glorious, especially from the cliff tops. The skirls of the sea lions that lay on the beach could be heard far inland. Numerous species of crabs scampered among the rocks. We studied and photographed the distinctive life of the area.

On the third day of our Monterey trip, we spent three hours kayaking through Elkhorn Slough. This ecosystem supported a unique group of animal and plant species. Frolicking sea otters would often come up to the surface of the water two to three feet away from us. Using the smokestacks of a nearby power plant, we were able to plot our location using techniques we learned that were actually perfected by ancient mariners. By the end of the trip, we were experienced kayakers and navigators.

Our fourth day in Monterey was more relaxed but just as remarkable as the rest. We visited the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz where we learned about marine mammals, peered into the aquarium home of many tide pool organisms and even visited a touch-and-feel tank. The tank allowed us to feel the different textures of organisms. Afterward, we examined the skeleton of an enormous whale that had washed onto shore in the 70s. Our studies helped us to understand dolphin physiology and relate data we collected from dolphins to human vital signs.

A walk along the cliffs of Santa Cruz provided a great vista of ocean, surfers and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the distance. Some students visited the surfer museum perched on a cliff while others simply enjoyed the magnificent view. We planned to visit tide pools and observe life in the littoral (coastal) zone but rough seas cancelled our plans. That night, we all gathered around the campfire and roasted marshmallows.

This trip was an eye-opener for me. I made new friends and got to know my good friends even better. I learned quite a bit about marine life and was able to see many different species of flora and fauna. I was excited to return and compare notes from my trip with a report I had previously written about my expected observations. My ability to apply information from the classroom to my close encounter with nature was thrilling and validated hours of study.

Although I felt a sense of regret as we headed for home, I was comforted by a single thought...there's always next year.

Manasa Suresh is an eighth grade student at Alsion Montessori Middle/High School.

Alsion Montessori Middle/High School
155 Washington Blvd., Fremont
(510) 445-1127

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