July 28, 2011
After lunch we made our way down to the water for some snorkeling and kayaking. Everyone was able to do both since there were only ten of us and we had plenty of time. I did a lap around the cove in a kayak and then decided to get in the water and snorkel, which turned out to be a great decision. It was a beautiful sunny day and the water was warmer than usual with great visibility. In the shallow water there were countless garibaldi and calico sea bass, along with a few sea hares and sea cucumbers. This was the first time I truly felt comfortable in the water, and it allowed to me to snorkel for a much longer period of time over a greater distance. We went further out towards the middle of the cove where the sea floor drops down to 20-30 feet and saw a group of at least twenty leopard sharks. They were densely concentrated in one area and seemed to be everywhere when we got there. There were also a few bat rays nearby along with a shovelnose guitarfish. The Marine Protected Area that includes the cove has an incredible amount of biodiversity and proves how effective MPAs can be. On the way back to shore there was a five-foot-long leopard shark swimming in the shallower water not more than five feet away from us. All in all it was a very productive and rewarding day. The trail is looking great and just needs some finishing touches now.
July 27, 2011
Today our professor, Lisa Collins, visited and we worked mostly on setting up the lab work for the colorimetric analysis of ammonia. We had 26 test tubes prepared, 2 for each of our 13 samples (10 soil samples plus 3 duplicates). Miller and I labeled each test tube in a systematic way (1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2), I did all the 1s, while he did all the 2s. Then I used the pipette to retrieve 3.0 mL of the soil sample from the erlenmeyer flasks that we had created earlier on July 18, and inserted into the test tubes.
Sabrina prepared another tray of 24 test tubes with the stock and blank solution. For each of these 50 test tubes, we added 400μL of salicylate catalyst. We created another mixed reagent that was 1 part chlorox and 9 parts alkaline-citrate reagent, which was equivalent to 3mL of Chlorox and 27mL of alkaline-citrate reagent. This would just be enough for the 50 test tubes that each needed 600 μL of the mixed reagent.
We actually didn’t have chlorox, so Dan and Miller had to drive to Two Harbors to get it. Then we added the mixed reagent to the test tubes. However, on the first two samples, we realized something went really wrong. Immediately after adding the alkaline-citrate, the sample precipitated, which was not supposed to happen. With the samples solidifying we are unable to run the samples through spectrometer and get an accurate reading. We had to quickly resort to a new protocol. The revised plan was to add 120mL of phenol, 120mL of sodium nitroprusside, and 300mL of chlorox solution to each of the 50 samples. The team was in full gears as we all took on individual tasks: preparing the reagents, pipetting solutions, sealing the samples with parafilm, and turning the test tubes upside down. Lisa even gave us a hand. Even with all this help we were barely able to make it to lunch.
During lunch we met up with Professor Jim Haw, who is the head of the Environmental Studies department. He was also my professor in quite a few classes. We told him how we sighted a rattlesnake up on our trail, and he became quite interested on hiking it. Unfortunately, he had a meeting, so he couldn’t do it. After lunch, we debriefed with Lisa about the teams’ aims and goals for our internship. We have about 3 weeks left, and we needed to prioritize on our deliverables. Once we finished, we went back to lab. We hoped that by the time we came back from lunch, the samples would have reacted with the solutions and changed color. It did not. Without any reaction, we aren’t able to do any analysis on the experiment. So our nitrogen testing was not successful.
For more pictures, click here: Day 46 Soil Analysis
July 25, 2011
After this talk, and a little shade, we continued our hike, past the waterfall to an area of fennel dominance which we had decided would be a good area to work. We started removing the fennel and everyone started pulling out fennel with vigor. It was a hot day, but everyone had plenty of water and sunscreen, and before I knew it there were already large piles of dead fennel littering the hillside. I was having a great time, chatting with the group and getting lots of work done and pretty soon it was about time to head down for lunch. We snapped a group photo and began to gather up all the fennel, water bottles and backpacks that needed to come down. Since there was so much fennel and the hike was pretty long, some bundles of fennel that I saw people carrying down the hillside were quite impressive. We made it down the hillside with enough time to make sure that we had gotten all of our tools and water bottles and then helped the other group clear their fennel.
We ended up having a great lunch with the conservancy, getting an opportunity to get to know them better and talk about the other work they were doing. They were really happy to get a cooked lunch as their past week had been spent camping and their meals were mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As a thank you for all their hard work throughout the morning, we headed down to the waterfront and gave a talk about kayak and snorkel use and asked the crew which they would want to try out. Most were interested in kayaking, a couple wanted to snorkel and a few of them wanted to get some sun and sit out on the loading ramp. Miller helped people get the kayaks and load them into the water, Sabrina was out in a kayak to lead the group, Alex was helping the people that had flipped their kayaks and I was getting the snorkelers in the water.
Even though many of the Conservancy members had not kayaked nor snorkeled before, their enthusiasm and resiliency was impressive. It seemed that no matter how many times they fell out of a kayak, just a few minutes later they were back in, trying all over again. This time at the waterfront was the highlight of my day. I fell in love with Catalina spring semester 2010 when I came out for a class. One day after class and lab a group of us decided to kayak and snorkel. I had previously been kayaking but had never snorkeled before and it was an amazing experience. Seeing all the flora and fauna that lived in the Marine Protected Area opened my eyes to a whole new world underwater. Getting the opportunity to share my love for the water was a spectacular experience. At the end of the day, we all watched them getting on the Miss Christi and waved goodbye; I was wishing the day could have gone on and on.
Check out our picture album from this day
July 19, 2011
by Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
In between preparing our lab samples, we had a meeting today with Charlie de la Rosa. Charlie is beginning his PhD in the Evolutionary Biology program at UCLA (our enemies!), so this was one of the last opportunities we had to talk with him before he leaves for school.
The focus of our meeting was the future of Deer Valley Trail. We had been discussing adding interpretive signs to our trail for some time, so it was finally time to start planning them out! We discussed many ideas for potential signs like an introduction to island biogeography, a map of all of the coves of the West End, an overview of sustainable trail design, or sign with all of the trail’s endemics on it. We also discussed the location of each sign. The goal is to have a sign at each control point, but we still weren’t sure which locations are best for which sign topics. It is also important that the trail is reversible so that hikers can begin the trail from the top of the ridge or from that bottom and have the same experience. Charlie suggested we continue to work through ideas for signs and begin drafts to help with the creation process.
We also talked about the sign design and funding. We are going to research different signs that we have seen that we like, and contact their creators. Charlie is very fond of the steel signs at Joshua Tree, so hopefully we can get in touch with them and find out how their signs are made. Unfortunately we don’t exactly have funds for the project yet. We talked about fundraising ideas and hope to coordinate with Wrigley to get money for these signs. I hope we can get through all of this red tape and have our signs completed before the end of the summer!
Next on the agenda was the a fennel removal volunteer day geared towards Conservancy employees. We discussed dates to invite Conservancy employees to help us remove fennel along the trail and then enjoy the amenities at the Wrigley waterfront, including snorkeling and kayaking. We chose the 27th and 29th for our work days. I hope that we can pull these events off! It will be a great opportunity for us to get more hands to work on the removal along our trail and teach more people about marine life at Wrigley Marine Science Center .
Before he left, Charlie invited us to a Stop the Spread event focused on educating volunteers on fennel removal in Howland’s Landing tomorrow. I hope we can all attend. Learning how the Conservancy teaches its volunteers how to remove fennel will be a really good model for us to follow when we have the LA Conservation Corps comes out on Monday.
July 18, 2011
While we waited for the autoclave cycle to run we prepared our analytical mixtures. We had made a good amount of our stock solution which was placed into the explosion-proof refrigerator in the Wrigley Lab. I had the task of weighing out 39.6 g of sodium salicylate and 0.026 g of sodium nitroferricyanide (III). Sabrina and Alex set about fashioning a funnel out of waxy weigh paper and tried to get this flour-like compound into a 100 mL volumetric flask. Miller then helped me weigh 25 g of sodium citrate and 4.6 g of sodium hydroxide which required careful funneling, as we were using weigh paper, into a 250 mL volumetric flask. Once our mixtures were in the flasks we added milliQ water and shook, then took turns shaking and then shook more. The 250 mL solution mixed easily, but the 100 mL formed a hard pack which required the majority of our time and shaking energy to dissolve. Once they were finally a homogeneous mix, we transferred the solution from the flasks into sealable glass containers which we put into the fridge with our stock solution. We then waited a few more minutes for our samples to finish in the autoclave, removed the samples and placed them into our designated lab space to begin our analysis on Thursday. The lab work, while not physically taxing like most of our work out here, was meticulous and time consuming, leaving me quite tired by the end of another long day.
July 13, 2011
The week so far has been extremely fun and exciting. It was packed with new activities and I really appreciated the break in the routine. We had an early start as we headed out to revisit Middle Ranch and work with Peter Dixon, the native plant nursery supervisor at the James H Ackerman Nursery. For the first half of the day, we worked on transplanting Catalina Island currants: Ribes viburnifolium, into bigger pots. These were native species in the gooseberry family. We transplanted over 100 of them, completing 6 trays. Before we started, Peter demonstrated the transplanting process. We began with filling the larger pot with soil, about 2/5 of the way. Then, we massaged the outside of the smaller pot to loosen it, and gently turned the pot over to remove the plant. Once we had the plant in our hands, we carefully “tickled” the bottom part to open up the roots. It was then time to transplant the currant into the bigger pot. We packed it into the soil. Peter advised us not to bury the plant too deep and to actually expose the root near the surface to prevent fungus disease. We continued to add more soil, compacting it around the edges and in the center, until it was firm. Then we placed the transplanted pots into a wheeling cart and watered it 3 times back and forth. It was important to get them soaked. Then we wheeled the cart into the nursery and placed the pots on the shelves. On the way back we got another tray of plants. We transplanted until we completed all 6 trays.
The second half of the day was dedicated to collecting seeds. We drove towards Avalon and stopped at two different sites to collect seeds for the purple needle grass (Nasella pulchra) and the silver lotus (Lotus argophyllus var. argenteus) respectively. We tied plastic bags on our pant loops to put the seeds in there. The purple needle grass was a fine, long brown stalk that swayed elegantly with the wind. We found them in an enclosed area where most of the seeds had already been released. Because the area belonged to the Conservancy, we could only take at most 10% of the plant. We had to leave some grass to regenerate. I had a difficult time differentiating the purple needle grass from other grasses, especially since the entire enclosed area was all grassland. I frequently got the purple needle grass confused with the ripgut grass. For me, I have to touch the seed to figure it out. The ripgut was harsher at the end; it almost felt sticky to me. Once we found a stalk with seeds, we held the stalk and pull the seeds in one quick upward moment, like a zipper action, and the seeds fell off easily.
We went further along Avalon, near the Catalina Island Marine Institute at Toyon Bay to gather the silver lotus. The site had an abundance of the plant. The silver lotus was more distinguishable than the purple needle grass. It was kind of weedy and had a yellow, brownish flower. The browner lotus meant the seed was ripe. We pulled out horn-like petals, which crumbled easily at our touch, and opened one with our nails. It was extremely difficult, but with much persistence I was able to pry it open and discover the tiniest seed I’ve ever seen. It looked similar to cricket turd. It was such an adventure going around the canyon to collect these seeds.
July 12, 2011
Today was our second day of soil collection, and this time Lisa left us to our own devices. Our collection area today was the Two Harbors 2011 fire burn area and along Deer Valley Trail.
We started the day by gathering all of our sampling materials (spades, Ziploc bags, and transect tapes) and adding them into the “Bucket o’ Science” as Lisa lovingly calls it. We hopped in the van and drove back over to Two Harbors. I had scouted out some sampling areas the day before on my jog and proposed some ideas to the group. We decided to sample and transect an area that had burnt to a crisp, and an area in the same habitat that had not burned.
We set off up the hillside until we found a spot that was suitable, then set up the transect.
We attempted to identify some associated species of the area but it was extremely difficult. First of all, the only thing thriving in the area was invasive yellow mustard, which we had never formally identified. Secondly, all the plants that remained from the fire were grasses and were extremely difficult to identify. Instead of trying to guess each different grass, we decided to take a picture and take a sample to one of our experts and identify it later. It was a tough transect to complete and there was definitely a lot of discussion over each plant and each point.
As we were laying down the tape, we had a visitor join us. It was Wilson, Two Harbors’ resident bison! We were a bit scared as he walked toward us, but it turned out he just wanted to scratch his face against a bush nearby us. There are always so many neat animal encounters in the field, you never know what is going to pop out next!
Our next transect proved a bit easier, after a slightly treacherous hike to the sampling site. We wanted an area to contrast our burned site, so we looked for an unburned area. We climbed further up the ridge through a drainage, sort of following the road but mostly creating our own trail. Dan led the way and we found a great spot amidst some scrub oak. We completed the second transect, and took another soil sample. I really wanted another sample from the same aspect and elevation within the burn area (to have a direct comparison between burned and non-burned) so the group humored me and we hike across the hillside to the burned area to take a soil sample.
After lunch, Dan, Miller, and Alex went up to our trail in Deer Valley to complete another transect and take a soil sample.
Once the data collection was completed, Lisa showed us how to sift the soil in the bag using a two micron sifter. Sifting the soil is going to take a while since there are a lot of sticky clay minerals in this island’s soil. Even though it will be alot of work, I am excited to see how all of our samples turn out in the lab. Overall, it’s been a great experience working in the field.
For more photos see Soil Collection and Transects Part II
July 11, 2011
Today was our first day of collecting soil samples and transect data throughout Catalina. Lisa Collins came out on the morning boat with Lisa Chung and we took one of the Wrigley 13 passenger vans to Middle Ranch. We met up with Charlie who told us he had areas in mind that would be relevant to our study regarding soil in disturbed areas.
Our first stop was a riparian area not too far from Middle Ranch just along the road. We set up our transect by throwing the meter tape over the dense vegetation in the drainage. This was not my first time using a transect tape, but it was my first time using a transect tape on land which was a different experience. While this was fun to set up, collecting our data proved challenging because a large percentage of the vegetation was poison oak and thorny blackberry plants. After weaving our way through the plants we had assembled our data about plant coverage, recording species name and abundance, at 3 meter intervals and we collected our soil sample from the 15 m mark. After a quick lunch we ran a second transect perpendicular to the first which was much easier to collect our data and soil sample as there was less plant cover, especially poisonous ones.
After we compiled our data from the Middle Ranch area, we drove to a ridge near Avalon where the Conservancy has established an exclosure, to keep deer and other animals from getting to the plants within. These exclosures are particularly interesting because they are dominated by ceanothus arboreus or Catalina ceanothus. The difference in plant abundance and size was very obvious along our 2 transects. Although we haven’t seen the results of our soil analysis, it will be interesting to see if there is difference in the soils due to the presence of this plant. The exclosure had tall ceanothus covered in leaves whereas just a few feet away outside of the fence the same ceanothus were short with much smaller foliage.
To finish our collecting Charlie to us to an area of heavy Genista coverage and an area nearby where the conservancy had treated for these plants. Genista is a member pea family or Fabacea, a family which has root nodules that associate with symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria. This acts as a fertilizer for the plant. It will be interesting to see whether these Genista monocultures have an effect on total soil nitrogen as a result. Charlie “scree surfed” down the steep slope along loose soil and rocks to collect our soil samples and then just hiked right back up. After a long day of data and soil collection we headed back to the Wrigley Institute and stuck around for a stress-free dinner with Lisa cooked by the wonderful staff.
July 9, 2011
By Alexandria Cheung and Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
After a wonderful breakfast cooked by Dan, our resident breakfast chef extraordinaire, Alex and I hiked over to the Wrigley campus for Associates’ Day, a day for donors to explore the amenities and projects going on! When we arrived, the day had already started with arts and crafts for the youngsters and events at the waterfront and marine lab. Alex and I were recruited to lead two nature hikes along the south facing slope of the campus up to the bluffs with Ellen Kelly, Wrigley’s Naturalist.
Before we set off, we handed them these really advanced headsets. They look like pre-recorded audio guides that you would get at a museum, but they actually tune in to a microphone so the crowd can listen to Ellen’s guide on real time. We thought this was a brilliant idea. It was also extremely useful because the trail is very narrow, and everyone has to hike in a single file line.
Ellen began the hike near the sycamore trees, and she introduced us to the the crowd. We started talking about our trail and our work here this summer, educating the hikers about invasive fennel . Then we hiked up the narrow path. Alex and I were stationed at different spots of the line, in the middle and at the end, to answer any questions. We also pointed out interesting geological features and plant species.
The crowd was extremely receptive and asked wonderful questions. Sabrina and I were happy to get to know them , especially since most of them were affiliated with USC, like professors, or had generations of family members that attended USC. Towards the end of the hike, Ellen did a demonstration on ocean waves for some of the kids in the group. We stood in a line and held hands, starting an oscillation at one end by lifting our arms, then transferred it back to the other side creating a wave. The little hikers really enjoyed it.
When it was our turn to lead the hike, Sabrina and I were super nervous, but we overcame our fears. We passed out the headsets and Sabrina led the hike above, while I lead it from behind. The experience was very nerve-wracking as we wondered what to talk about and what to point out. It became more natural as we showed plants that we knew and understood and told stories about our island experiences. It was nice to share all of the knowledge that had been imparted to us from Ellen and Charlie, and teach it to someone new. Sabrina did a wonderful job leading on top. All in all, it was a great learning experience.
After the hike, we had a delicious meal with the USC Associates. Associates Day is a great program and I am glad we could be a part of it.
July 8, 2011
Today was our second day of species collection with Sarah! We had such an awesome time working with her last week, we were excited to continue our work today. We began at the borrow pit (an area where soil is mined and deposited for various purposes) where we had left off the previous Friday. One of the coolest plant species I have encountered on this island lives in this borrow pit. It is South African native succulent part of a genus called Mesembryanthemum and it is beautiful! The plant grows low to the ground and in wide patches. Because it is a succulent, this ice plant is great at living in dry conditions and has adaptations that allow it to store water in its tissues. This trait manifests itself as tiny water droplet like structures that surround the plants stems. When they catch sunlight, the plant glitters! It is really neat, and its no wonder this plant is cultivated for ornamental purposes.
One of the things that I have learned working on this island is that invasive plants aren’t bad or even necessarily ugly, they simply just don’t belong. Despite this plants beauty, it has some gnarly effects on the ecosystem. The ice plant has the ability to concentrate salt within its tissues (which also aids with water absorption). When the ice plant drops its leaves, it concentrates salts in the soil. Many plants cannot grow in this salty environment, so the iceplant can essentially take over once it establishes. As we continued our survey we identified two types of invasive Mesembryanthemum along the trail, Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum and Mesembryanthemum crystallinum. We haven’t discussed the removal of invasives other than fennel along the trail, so I can’t speak to the fate of these ice plants, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss them. They are just that beautiful! I guess I will have to move to South Africa to have some in my yard.
As our identification work continued, we moved to from the Bird Rock lookout point to the Picnic oak. Right past the oaks, we collected one of the trail’s three endemics, the Catalina bedstraw or Gallium nutalium. We continued up the trail, still in the Island chaparral and grassland type plant community, past the fenceline up to a unique looking tree. It has beige bark that peels away to reveal a bright burnt umber interior. As it turns out, this tree is quite special. It is a Xyloccocus bicolor or mission manzanita, a tree native only to Southern California and Northern Baja. I think it is so cool we found such a rare plant along our trail! We carefully collected fruit and leaves from this tree, placed some more species in the press and continued towards the top of the trail.
Near the top, we collected some more unique plants: the Catalina chrososoma, the Island redberry, and Indian paintbrush. I remember reading The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola as a child, and since then it has been an iconic representation of Native American culture to me. It was neat to see Indian paintbrush in the wild, especially since I wouldn’t expect to see it on Catalina.
We finally made it to the top and with 40 species samples! I was so impressed by the diversity of the plant community in this area, I would never have guessed there were so many different kinds of plants. It also goes to show how important preventing a fennel take over is; there are too many species on this trail at risk. I hope we protect this area and can highlight all of these unique plants along our trail so others can see them!
For more pictures, check out today’s photo album: Day 27 Plant Collection with Sarah