High School Scientists Conduct Long Term Study on Santa Cruz Island

Written by Estero Bay News

May 8, 2023

Morro Bay High School and Coast Union students worked together on a scientific study Santa Cruz Island. Photo submitted

By Kennedy Crockett 

A group of North Coast students recently had the opportunity to take the science classroom outside. 

Fourteen students from Morro Bay High School and six from Coast Union High partnered together to conduct a scientific study on Santa Cruz Island through a school funded program called the “Field Studies Collaborative” (FSC). The program was founded by  Paso Robles High School science teacher Mark DiMaggio and his colleagues, with the mission to give high school students the experience of being out in nature while simultaneously conducting real world hands-on research.   

This trip, the first ever outside of Paso High, was spearheaded by Andrew Crosby (Coast Union High) and Kennedy Crockett (Morro Bay High). The group traveled to Ventura Harbor, hopped aboard a boat, and spent five days on a very special part of the island that is co-managed by the Nature Conservancy and the UC Natural Reserve System. The public does not have access to this portion of the island as it is reserved for conservation projects and research. 

MBHS and Coast Union students identifying native plants and exotic grasses in one of 23 macro-plots. Photo submitted

Cal Poly and the US Geological Survey were also partners in the project to create a long term study that measures the effects of the dead annual invasive grasses on the germination of native plants on the island.  Approved by The Nature Conservancy, the study granted these schools permission to camp at the Field Station and gave students access to the wide range of remote ecosystems on the island. This kind of opportunity is usually only available to qualified college students, and both Morro Bay High and Coast Union are immensely grateful for this remarkable and very rare opportunity for young students who yearn for enriching opportunities to inspire future career options in science. 

The student takeaways from this trip ranged in their depth and meaning. For some, this trip reinvigorated a love for learning and inspired students’ future course of study for college. Senior Alexa Contreras stated, “To say that this trip has opened my eyes and motivated me for life is an understatement. I was interested in environmental science before taking this trip, and this only solidified my decision to pursue a career in this subject.

Other student takeaways and outcomes were focused more on personal growth. On the five-day adventure, students were away from phones and technology and were able to form friendships with one another. 

Graceyn Costa, a junior from Morro Bay High said, “Every moment of this trip has impacted my life. The adventurous spirit of those around me inspired me to be daring and seek adventure. Stargazing by the creekside with friends new and old filled me with an overwhelming sense of peace.  I have never had an opportunity such as this before and will forever be grateful for the experiences and people who made it special.”

The trip was not without obstacles standing in the way just to get out on the island, let alone navigate around it. Typically, there would be roads that would allow participants to drive on the island with short hikes to our research destinations. Due to the heavy winter rains, the roads past the field station were inaccessible and many long distance hikes totaling about 50 miles became the mode of transportation. These hikes allowed students to connect and push themselves past limits they didn’t know existed. 

One senior, Elijah Linn, from Coast Union said, “The trip was simply amazing. However, it was also very difficult, with long and arduous hikes everyday. These hikes ended up being the best parts of the whole trip, as being able to explore the beautiful Island with a great group of friends was breathtaking. The final hike of our trip, Mount Diablo, was especially grueling for me, because I had inadequate footwear. In the end it became my favorite day of the trip from the rush of satisfaction and excitement I got from reaching the top, and then later returning back to camp.”

Another senior, Jack Francis, from Coast Union added, “I am so glad I made the decision to go, because if I didn’t, I would have missed out on one of the best six days of my life. I learned so much from this trip about plants, animals, the island, and I also learned a lot about myself. While on the hikes I sometimes chose to split off from everyone and walk alone in the woods, and, for me, it was so refreshing and allowed me to focus on myself.”

For more information contact kcrockett@slcusd.org, Mark DiMaggio at mdimaggio@pasoschools.org,  or Andrew Crosby at acrosby@coastusd.org

Kennedy Crockett is a biology teacher at Morro Bay High School.

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