A Marine Science Adventure

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Rosie at a Science Camp beach cleanup at South Point, July, 2017.

Rosie Lee is a counselor and marine science instructor at Science Camp for Teens on Hawaii Island and a senior at the University of Hawaii at Hilo majoring in marine science. This fall, as part of her marine science program at the university, Rosie participated in a scientific research expedition into the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Rosie shared her amazing adventure with us here.

by Rosie Lee

When we hear the word “scientist” as kids, it’s easy to think about the rough stuff; the letters in math, the pipetting in chemistry, lab glasses, coats, and gloves, and being stuck in a lab with the A/C turned on too high. What Science Camps of America does so well, is remind our youth that the word “scientist” has a million and one applications. Right away from the first day, the students learn about volcanology, space botany, and a whole lot of other“-ologies”, each unique and unfamiliar to the majority. What I got to experience this fall was another great example of what being a scientist is.

For 25-days this September, all other aspects of my life came to a screeching halt as I boarded the NOAA Ship, Hiʽialakai, for a research expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).

 

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The scientists and coxswains on the fantail of the Hiʽialakai. Photo by NOAA.

The NWHI is known as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and is the second largest Marine Protected Area in the world. This means that all activities (boating, fishing, diving, etc.) are strictly prohibited unless approved under federal permit. It also means that these tropical coral reefs are isolated from human foot-traffic and every crack and crevice, above and below the surface, is teeming with life.

 

During these 25-days, I spent 21 of them underwater, identifying, counting, and sizing fish; everyday seeing new species I had never before seen. During each dive, my dive buddy and I were more likely than not to be the first to lay eyes on that specific patch of reef.

We were the first, and probably last, to ever see that given part of our earth.

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Rosie diving amidst a school of Ulua at French Frigate Shoals. Photo by Jason Leonard.

Field science is such an integral part of one’s education. During my time in the monument, I felt like I could have read a thousand peer-reviewed scientific articles and still would have learned less about the NWHI ecosystem than I did by jumping in the water every day and seeing it with my own eyes. By interacting with the environment around me and being immersed [literally] in my work every day, I was able to make new observations about the NWHI daily, each making me a better scientist. Enjoying the work one does makes it significantly easier to achieve great things.

 

Frequently throughout the expedition, I would find myself in a full-on laughing attack underwater because I could not comprehend what I was doing and what I was seeing. I was able to SCUBA dive (which is my favorite past-time) nearly every day while being swarmed by thousands of fish, many larger than I.

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Rosie diving with some really big ulua at French Frigate Shoals. Photo by Jason Leonard.

Before heading into the monument, all new divers are told story after story about the infamous ulua fish, or giant trevally- Caranx ignobilis, and its bully-like behavior. This fish often proceeds more than 4 feet in length and 150 pounds in weight. This fish is also known as an apex predator, meaning it’s not scared of you so you should be scared of it.

 

Curious about us humans, the ulua would often swarm in schools up to a hundred around us divers, making us very aware that we are no longer the biggest and the baddest.

While that would make the average Joe rather uncomfortable, the feeling is far too comforting for us fish ecologists. These fish so rarely seen in the Main Hawaiian Islands do to overfished waters, are thriving under the protection of Papahānaumokuākea.

Just like the ulua, many species, whether coral, sponge, limu, or fish, are thriving due to the federal protection.

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Rosie in front of a large coral colony. Photo by Jason Leonard/NOAA.

Unfortunately, although these waters are protected from direct human impacts, the implications of the human race do not go unnoticed. Many reefs are overgrown by forests of macroalgae or are no more than large flats of coral rubble due to the overhanging effects of global climate change. Along with the declining reefs, every day we ran upon marine debris such as plastic bottles, buoys, nets, and many other average household items. Thousands of miles away from human populations, it’s disturbing to think how far the debris has traveled. Regardless, even with the death and debris, every day I would experience moments of awareness.

Maybe it was a dive on a vibrant, healthy reef, or the ulua that tried to bite my face off, but I would always come to the realization of where I was and what I was doing: I was floating around in the middle of the Pacific, diving nearly every day, working with a well-established group of scientists and ship crew.

Rosie diving with sharks at Kure Atoll

Rosie diving with sharks at Kure Atoll. Photo by Jason Leonard/NOAA

It is important for youth to hear about all aspects of the scientific community, so they too can find something meaningful and important to them. Some may want to too dive with large fish and sharks on the daily, and some may want to plant potatoes in space. But finding out about how vast the world of science is at a young age is important for dream making and goal creating.

The point is, if you can question it, there is probably a science behind it. So, with that, find the science that suits you and explore it.

Science Camps of America provides the opportunity for our youth to discover what they may have thought was the undiscoverable and it opens up a whole new world of opportunities and exploration.

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Sunrise from the bridge of the ship. Photo by Jason Leonard/NOAA.

Discovering New Ways to Pursue Your Passion

Chrystal Zajchowski attended Science Camp in 2014 just before entering her senior year in high school. In 2016, after completing her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Chrystal returned as Science Camp’s first counselor-in-training. Just before starting her sophomore classes, Chrystal took some time to write to me about her Science Camp experience. With her permission, I am sharing it here. Thanks for sharing, Chrystal!


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Chrystal at South Point beach cleanup in 2014

This summer, I had the opportunity to be Science Camps of America’s first counselor in training. I was a camper two years prior and that experience was like no other, with trips all around Hawaii to the Imiloa Astronomy Center, the Keck Observatory Headquarters, Volcano National Parks, and even to Black Sands Beach. I knew I wanted to come back, I just didn’t know how. I was the oldest camper that session by two years, so it was hard to fit in with the younger campers. Finding myself talking to the counselors and spending most of my time with them throughout the camp, the counselors and I believed a new position should be made.

The next summer, it was made known to me that the position was made. Just my luck, I was too busy getting ready for college and I could not take advantage of the opportunity. My first year of college, I was having some difficulties in my physics class, so I thought that astronomy wasn’t for me. I had carefully thought about what other majors would interest me, or what else I could see myself doing, but nothing prevailed. I researched the astronomy major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I study, and I found out that there are different ways to get your astronomy degree that didn’t have to be a Bachelor of Science degree in Astrophysics. Changing my track to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy, I found that I can study what I really love and not be as stressed out. I thought that at Science Camps of America, I could talk to scientists and science teachers to make sure that this is what I wanted to do.

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Chrystal (center) with campers and staff hiking to see lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Finally, keeping some time for science after a long first year as an astronomy major at UMass Amherst, I boarded my flight to Hawaii. This summer has been an amazing learning experience for me. I always knew it would be, but it was much more than I expected.

Learning how to deal with teenagers and learning how to work with other adults at the same time was just the start of it. So much science was learned as well from determining the salinity of the Waiopae Tide Pools, to realizing that the constellations are something I need to know to be a better astronomy teacher in the future.

This whole experience has made me come to realize many things. After my difficult first year in college, trying to zero in what I really wanted to be doing, and how I could make that happen; I have come to realize that teaching high school students is what I would really like to be doing in a few years. Though I have never really wanted to teach, ever, I have come to realize that teaching would be something I am good at and something that I would enjoy doing.


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Chrystal working on her s’mores technique.

Report on Summer Science Camp 2013

The euphoria of camp wears off quickly, but fortunately, almost magically (perhaps for the rest of our lives), anytime we wish we can close our eyes and instantly our minds flash through the images and sounds that make up our memories of camp. We smile, and for a moment, the euphoria returns.

23 Campers, 4 Staff, 2 10-day sessions, 21 Field Trips, 50/50 Girls/Boys, 50/50 Hawaii/Mainland, 1200 miles per session, 15 average age, 17 lava encounters, 3 pickup basketball games, 27 Rings of Saturn sightings

Our first Science Camp was held this summer on the Big Island of Hawaii and was very successful (more on that later). Here are some numbers from camp:

We had two great groups of good, smart, friendly kids which really made it possible for everyone, campers and staff, to have a great time and to achieve what we set out to do.

Land & Sea Science Camp group photo

Land & Sea Science Camp

Of course, calling something a success doesn’t make it so. You have to have criteria for the claim. Here is ours:

  • No one was lost or seriously hurt (seems basic, but you have to pay attention!)
  • Everyone was housed and fed (it was surprising how important this became!)
  • Campers had fun and bonded closely with each other (per surveys and interviews)
  • Everyone learned a lot of science (without homework or classes!)
  • Met or exceeded our science programming goals

Most importantly, we proved that an overnight camp can be a fantastic environment for teens to learn science in a hands-on, experiential way. One of the reasons I feel confident declaring camp a success is that at the end of each session, no one wanted to leave! The last day was very emotional: many tears, hugs, and sad good-byes. At once, everyone was suddenly realizing what a fantastic experience it had been and that, sadly, it was ending.

Air & Space Science Camp Group Picture

Air & Space Science Camp

I want to thank a number of people for their help in making Science Camp a success: our staff, Patty Halpin, science teacher and Toni Difante, counselor for their hard work, patience and for creating a fun, open and comfortable camp environment;  Julia Neal, Pahala Plantation Cottages, for taking such good care of us every day; The Edmund C. Olson Trust and Mrs. Zora Charles for the scholarships they provided; the many Big Island organizations and individuals that allowed us to visit; members of the Science Camps of America Board of Directors and Board of Advisors for their help and guidance in making camp a reality. Special thanks are added for my wife Sheri, who was officially the camp nurse, but unofficially just about everything else, and without whom, this camp would not have been possible.

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Patty

Sheri

Sheri

Toni

Toni

Beyond Traditional Learning

To build long-lasting connections with the science we are learning each day, we have included activities at Science Camp that enrich the total experience.  Here is a look at how we are doing that.

Enrichment through Hawaiian Culture

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Through Hawaiian language, art, culture, dance, music and history, our intent is to better understand the threads that link us to the past and to the future in this place. Many of the issues we face today – energy, sustainability, climate change, natural hazards, sea level change – were just as critical to the Hawaiians of old. Understanding the approach an island people used to deal with these issues can be related to finding the ways that our ‘island’ planet will do the same.

Enrichment through the Arts

Enrichment through the ArtsUsing photography, videography, art, drawing, music and dance is a powerful way to deepen the understanding of the environmental science that our campers will be studying. Visiting a volcano is a great learning experience, but how does it make you feel?  How can you share with others how you felt while hearing the harrowing story of a tsunami survivor? How does a photographer capture a feeling? We want our campers to find ways to express themselves and to share those expressions with others.  Our specialists will be helping our young scientists learn.

Enrichment through Nature

Enrichment through NatureAs human beings we are wired to connect with nature. Study after study shows that being outdoors is a benefit, no matter what activity it is. At camp we will almost always be outside.  What recharges you? Is it the beach? the ocean? walking through the forest? hiking in the desert? The Big Island offers so much variety, including volcanoes, mountains, forests, deserts and beaches, that we are going to have continuous chances to connect and re-connect with the great outdoors.

Enrichment through Camp Life

Enrichment through Camp LifeAttending camp has so many benefits for the intangibles that are so critical today: leadership, confidence, teamwork, to learn to fail and to try again, to help others, to expand one’s horizons.  These are what are called ’21st century skills’ but camps have been teaching these skills since the 1860’s. And, naturally, making new friends, exploring new places and having fun.

Here is how it comes together…

5 StepsWe hike from camp to the shoreline through a wild coastal plain of old lava flows, scrub brush and lowland forest. As we walk, we learn about the plants we are seeing, the climate that allows this environment, and the forces that created this coastline. When we reach the ancient Hawaiian trail known as The King’s Trail, we learn about what we are seeing and hear tales of myth and history as we continue our hike along the coast.  We find a remote cove where we can stop and have lunch, take videos and pictures or draw, study the topography of the land. We talk about explosive volcanism and what we are seeing around us, and then we look for and measure evidence of changes in sea level in the past. After hiking back, we work together to assemble a multimedia video about the day, including video clips, photos, music and voice-overs.  Before turning in for the night, we post the video on the Science Camp community website so our families and friends can log in and see what we did today.
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Learn more at ScienceCampsAmerica.com.

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Courtesy of Ka’u Preservation

More Than Science

Sure, campers at Science Camp are going to learn a lot about science and of course they are going to have fun. But what else can be expected from the summer camp experience?

Camp is a venue for:_MG_5991

  • Inviting exploration and play
  • Providing physical and emotional support
  • Focusing on collaboration and teamwork
  • Trying new things
  • Teaching and valuing self-reliance and resourcefulness
  • Encouraging manageable risk
  • Facilitating relationships

In a nutshell, camp is an environment where young adults can really grow.  At the American Camp Association (ACA) Annual National Conference earlier this month, it was great to learn more of the ways that camp leaders can facilitate the experiences that contribute to this.

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It is good to see that across the United States more and more school systems are starting to realize that schools, too, need to provide such an environment. An emphasis on test results is not the answer and is actually toxic to an environment that is trying to develop the character traits outlined above.

Professional educators are starting to understand that camp has been such an environment for over 150 years, and that camps, and camp leaders, have a lot to bring to the table.  And camps and camp leaders are starting to realize that they have a lot to offer. Unfortunately, camps have not been good at collecting and sharing data, and educational folks generally love lots and lots of data.  That is starting to change, thanks to efforts by the ACA, and a growing realization among camp leaders how important it is to have that data.

I believe that when camps start to provide data for studies that educators can read and respect, lights are going to go on. Educators will see the tools they need to help provide the right environment, and camps will see how important their work is to youth development and how important it is to expand the reach of camp.

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Throw in some nature and you’ve got a winning recipe.

Registration for Science Camp is Open!

We are officially open! The Science Camps of America web site is now up and ready to help campers, parents and anyone who would like to help send teens to science camp. Take a look at http://ScienceCampsAmerica.com.

Science Camp Web Site

Science Camp will be held on the Big Island of Hawaii. The first session, Land and Sea, is from June 22-July 1, the second, Air and Space is from July 1-10. The camp will be hosted at Pahala Plantation Cottages. We have space for about 36 teens each session.

Here is some of what you can do on  the web site:

* Learn about our summer science camps for teens
* Register for camp
* Make a donation (thank you!)
* Apply for a job or volunteer
* Contact us about becoming a sponsor
* Learn how you can offer a scholarship
* Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and WordPress
* Enjoy the pictures
* Connect to this blog

 

A Day at Science Camp

What is a typical day at science camp like? Here is a sample:

7:00 am: Wake up shortly after sunrise, go outside and spend a few minutes enjoying the sunshine. Pahala Plantation House

7:30 am: Off to breakfast – short five minute walk to the ‘Plantation House’ – banana pancakes on the veranda – yum!

8:30 am: Back to the cottage for clean up and to pack for today’s filed trip, Kilauea Volcano.

9:30 am: Gather at the vans, pile in – here we go!Kilauea Lookout

10:00 am: Arrive at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The resident geologist gives us a presentation about the facility and its history and talks about what they do at the observatory, including what they do when the volcano does something spectacular. On to the Jaggar Museum to spend some time at the lookout over Kilauea Caldera.Thurston Lava Tube

Noon: After eating lunch in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we are walking through Thurston Lava Tube, learning how important lava tubes are to a Hawaiian-type volcano. Amazing to walk through one!

2:00 pm: Hiking the Ka’u Desert Trail.  What a weird place. Saw footprints more than 200 years old preserved in ash. Kilauea Caldera

4:00 pm: Back at camp. This is rec hour. One of the counselors is really good at photography and today she’s taking a group of us out on a photography walk.

5:30 pm: Kitchen Duty today, so I’m at the Plantation House early.

7:30 pm: Showing a film about Kilauea eruptions between 1955 and 1960. Those old guys took some chances!

_MG_7078s8:00 pm: Surprise trip up to Kilauea volcano. Standing at the lookout watching the glow coming from Halema’uma’u Crater. Awesome! And the night sky is incredible.

Big Island Star Gazing

10:00 pm: Lights out!