Santa Catalina Snorkels

I know I’m really procrastinating on my homework when I decide I’ll write a whole blog post instead of working on what’s due soon. Normally, I tell myself I’ll have a five minute break and then get back to it (yeah, right), but a post is serious business.

Basically, I’ve realized that this blog may not be widely read, but it’s a way for me to catalogue my memories. And now, I’m starting a PhD program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanograpy and I hope the next 5 (maaaaybe 6) years will hold some pretty amazing periods. This summer, I’m taking a class with a bunch of master’s students, and boy do we go places!

A few weeks ago, we took a field trip to Catalina Island off the coast of CA. The boat ride over there was not as bad as I had expected–my parents both provided a horror story of their own less-than-pleasant rides years earlier. We docked at the USC Wrigley marine station, which they graciously let other institutions use. The first problemo was getting our stuff up the dock to a truck to get up the hill (how did a desert island in the middle of the ocean get so elevated?!?!). Thankfully, it turns out 30 of us did a fantastic hand-off line and the 10 boxes of beer and dozen bottles of wine our program provided made it safely to our dorms (apparently: college=alcohol no bueno; grad school=bring on the beer).

The USC marine station! Of course, the dorms were alllll the way at the top

The USC marine station! Of course, the dorms (and food!) were alllll the way at the top.

Also, Imma take this time to apologize for the lack of above-water photos. This is one of the few you’re going to get, likely due to my painstakingly expensive acquirement of an underwater camera (finally!). I seemed to forget I could actually use it out of water.

We soon hopped in the water for some initial snorkeling exploration, then wrapped up the day with a lecture by the most wonderfully relaxed yet innocently excited professor, Dick Norris. He even led us in a drinking game during his lecture of Catalina geology!

The next morning involved a closer study of the geology by kayak, so we set off for the diatomaceous cliffs just outside the harbor.


Thousands of years of diatoms, little marine algae, dying and landing on the ocean floor. This is proper wonderment, people!

Thousands of years of diatoms dying and landing on the ocean floor. This is proper wonderment, people!


Entering a dark and previously unexplored realm. JK, it was a fairly short tunnel. Watch your head on high waves though!

The next few days found us working our science magic and completing a series of transects both in our little bay and at Little Harbor. We counted fish, invertebrates, and algae. While a useful way to quantify what an area has in terms of life and then compare it with other area, transects can be hard to do and even harder to do well. Tom (my summer field trip buddy!) and I had a difficult time in the shallows as waves tried to pick us up and drive us five feet up into barnacle-encrusted rocks. Try bushwhacking giant pieces of algae out of the way while counting snails on the  12′ bottom on one breath. Science is not all glamour, kids! Thankfully, our data wasn’t destined for publication in Science, so our class used it more as an experience in the difficulties of field work.

I honestly know I’m happier now with rooting all my work in the lab, which I was a little bummed about at first. I appreciate how so many variables can be controlled–out there, scientists have to worry about how their introduction into the environment is affecting animal behavior, whether they accidentally missed a really important species, or something as simple as how much air they have left in a SCUBA tank.

So all my complaints aside, spending so much time in little plots of shore has its benefits. We saw some sights that makes Catalina famous!


Leopard shark! These guys adored the warm pool of water near the dock. Shy and small, they stick to the bottom and don’t bother snorkelers desperately chasing them with cameras. This one is about to make an about face and head away from me.



Classic kelp forest, complete with a garibaldi!



A kind of kelp called Macrocystis, which is recognizable with a bulb for every frond. Very common!



Beneath the dock, a kelp bass lurks. This part of Catalina is a marine protected area, meaning fish like this can’t be speared. It’s almost impossible to find fish this big elsewhere on the island, which our data supports.



First fish on our data sheet in Little Harbor!



The first time I’ve ever seen a wild octopus! What a beauty 🙂



More Macrocystis. Catalina is well-known for its kelp forests.

Something I think everyone should do is peer a little closer to what’s around them in the water.  I often find the coolest things when I don’t just have my eyes peeled for bigger animals. So grab a rock and pull your face in! Just check for any eels first…


This species of anemone grabs little bits of shell and rock to its body for protection.



A species of nudibranch that I didn’t even see until I stuck my hand on him!



Man, I don’t even know half of what’s in this picture. The brown/black circle is the opening to a stationary snail, there’s some turf algae (green bits), some coralline red algae (pink/red stuff–it’s actually got a “skeleton” of calcium carbonate), and I think the orange is a sponge.

We even got a whole day to do paired projects. I worked with a classmate on identifying zooplankton from two different areas. I’ll leave you with one last shot through a fancy microscope/camera combo! Talk about looking closely!

Spionid larval worm (left) and a fish egg (right)



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