Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day 1: Hangin' out in kayaks, talkin' ocean chemistry--gotta love Saturdays.

I am grateful for all organizations that strive to improve their communities but there are some that stand out above the rest. The difference, at least in concept, is simple: they see the big picture.

Outdoor Outreach is one of those organizations. I had the privilege of volunteering with them last weekend on their kayak tour through the La Jolla Kelp Forest and caves (AKA the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve). From their website, their stated mission is to “empower at-risk and underprivileged youth to make positive lasting changes in their lives through comprehensive outdoor programming.” But they don’t stop there. They don’t pretend that this concisely stated goal is so important that they can just ignore the other details. Details like eating a healthy lunch during the outings, not just ordering fast food; bringing reusable water bottles, not adding more plastic to the oceans; talking about science on a Saturday morning, not just splashing each other and trying to flip each other’s kayaks (although there was still plenty of that…).

Learning the differences between and sea lions & seals and
pelicans, gulls, & cormorants.
Cormorants can hold their breath down to 170 feet to go fishing!
Photo credit: Jason Ward Studios, 2013.
Outdoor Outreach is a group with a vision for the big picture. I was quite lucky to have had the chance to kayak with OO in the local kelp forest, just south of Scripps Pier. Not only did I have a blast paddling around, but it was really fun to talk to the kids and other volunteers, everyone stoked to be spending their weekend on the beach and ocean. I thought I was volunteering to teach, but I learned a lot! People often assume that all oceanographers know about everything that lives in the ocean. We don’t. Well, at least, I know I don’t. I learned about the different types of kelp that reside in La Jolla (giant, elkhorn, & feather), sat above the Rose Canyon Fault, and discovered that only sea lions bark, not seals. To a chemist, learning this biology and geology was pretty cool, especially since it’s right in my “backyard.”

Outdoor Outreach's Adventure Clubbers answering questions about ocean acidification, pollution, and conservation.
Photo credit: Jason Ward Studios, 2013.
I had a couple opportunities to talk about chemical changes in the ocean as a result of human pollution, notably ocean acidification (OA). OA is the result of human-produced carbon dioxide dissolving into seawater, decreasing the ocean’s pH. Many creatures have a harder time surviving in these lower pH waters and many of them are either creatures we like to eat (like oysters) or form the bottom of the food chain for other critical (and tasty) species. We played a quick game where kids had to figure out whether certain common activities contributed more to pollution or conservation, and to what degree (for example, eating fast food produces much more pollution than eating fresh, local fruits and veggies and biking to work or school instead of driving an SUV counts toward conservation).

At the end of the day, though, I learned far more from the experience than I could ever hope to teach. Thanks again to Outdoor Outreach for doing such an amazing job and letting me play a small part. I can’t wait to get back out there!

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