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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Catalina Island, California, USA

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Catalina Island, California, USA
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Registered: December 2018
City/Town/Province: Edmond
Posts: 1
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When I was younger, my mom used to tell me how I had this hunger in my spirit that only nature could satisfy. I would become restless and beg my parents to let me go play in the woods. Of course, they always insisted someone came with me. Either way, it didn't matter to me because I never felt alone. Squirrels would bound from tree to tree, dropping acorns like confetti upon my arrival. Birds would whisper to their friends little songs of curiosity. The bugs were always the first to come and say hello, leaving me something to remember them by. The pure bliss that these adventures through nature's playground brought me, also brought about a sad realization. It was in the summer when I had my first taste of what human hunger can do. The flutelike song of the birds that usually woke me up was replaced by the sound of chainsaws. I looked out my window and witnessed a tragedy. My playground was gone along with all of the friendly creatures I called my friends. It was replaced by a parking lot. At that age, I never understood that my little town was expanding, businesses were coming in and they were running out of places to put them. It wasn't until later that I realized the same was happening all around the world. Rainforests, Oceans, Deserts, Mountains, all being destroyed to make room for expansion. Now it is clear, expansion means money and human hunger for money is like pouring sand into a sifter; satisfying for a moment, then empty with an insatiable need for more. All of these realizations eventually led me to pursuing a degree in Biology and Environmental Sustainability.

At the University of Central Oklahoma, there is a program called "Alternative Spring Break". I had always heard mention of it, but never took the step to discover what it was. It wasn't until I discovered the Nicademis Wilderness Project incentive and what it could mean for my future that I decided to pursue this experience. I went through a rigorous application process and was accepted based on the degree of passion I exhibited for the cause through essay writing. The trip took me to Catalina Island, a place I'd never seen nor heard of before. Turns out it was an island off of the coast of California, quite far from my native Oklahoma. I expected a busy week ahead, but I never could have anticipated the experiences and appreciation I carried home with me.

During the week, my group and I managed to accomplish a lot. The first day, in it's entirety, was spent carried giant poles up the side of a big hill that were left behind from a tree planting project from the years before that resulted in amazing scientific discoveries regarding the ability of trees to communicate with one another. After carrying the poles up the hill, they were transported back to head-quarters for further use in other projects. The second day, we participated in trail maintenance. These maintenance techniques not only allow hikers to explore the natural wonders of Catalina Island and gain appreciation for its inhabitants, but maintain the boundaries that prevent damaging runoff. The third day, we went to the Catalina Island visitor's center to participate in a training course over the history of the island and it's inhabitants. Upon completion of the course, we claimed the title of certified Catalina Island naturalists. It was during this course that I gained the immense appreciation I have for the unparalleled wonders that island ecosystems sustain. I also realized, upon completion of this course, the sensitivity of island ecosystems to anthropogenic effects. Something as simple as an unclean shoe can prove detrimental to the native wildlife. Invasive plant species have made their way to the island by hitching rides on the shoes of unsuspecting tourists. Unfortunately, the native plants lose in the battle against invasive species for nutrients. Due to this invasion, the native Catalina hair-string butterfly, which relies on these native plants for survival, has joined the extensive list of endangered species as a result of human activities. On the fourth day, we returned to the visitor's center to conduct literature searches and collect data on the species that inhabit the island to help with providing insight on their behaviors and what the future holds for their species. After collecting the data for our assigned organism, we composed a comprehensive profile for visitors to read and gain knowledge from. On the fifth day, we went to the town for the 'First Day of Spring' celebration and removed invasive plants, replacing them with native ones along the harbor for the enjoyment of visitors and animals alike. On the 6th day, we went to the famous Catalina gardens to do maintenance on the native plants. Maintenance consisted of clearing any debris that obstructed plant growth, trimming dead leaves, and replenishing fresh soil rich with nutrients for the plants to thrive. On the 7th and final day, we ventured to shark point beach to pick up trash along the shore. This day brought about many sad and motivational realizations as someone who cares deeply for the animals we share this planet with. With a group of 8 individuals, we managed to collect 25 bags of trash from one section of this vast stretch of shore. I found anything from straws to discarded fishing nets and everything in between. The majority of the trash we managed to pick up consisted of Styrofoam and plastic straws. While this was a small effort in light of the bigger picture, it felt good to provide a temporary relief to the animals that are harmed by the accumulation of all the pollution.

The concentrated efforts of my group and members of the Catalina Island conservancy serve as a demonstration for how anyone can take action to nurture a healthy relationship between humans and the environment. The preservation of island ecosystems is vital if not only for their biologically remarkable uniqueness. They are little worlds of their own, containing precious life that exists nowhere else on the planet. Recycling trash, planting trees, and respecting nature's boundaries are simple ways to help preserve these special places.

The moment I pulled back that curtain to reveal a city of concrete where my forest haven used to be, a desire to save the planet was ignited. That frustration I felt as a child expanded into adulthood because I could never see how one person amongst billions could make any sort of difference. This experience did not eliminate that frustration, but transformed it. I have realized the connection that every individual shares with the environment, whether acknowledged or not. If one person can't make a change, then how could one person's shoe change the fate of an entire species? If the action of one domino can alter the course of history, then anyone with a passion to save the planet can be the force that ignites a cascade of change. As a result of these experiences and discoveries, I plan to continue my pursuit of knowledge in the fields of biology and environmental science, but with a renewed sense of hope for the future and a tip of the domino.
Date: December 4, 2018 Views: 274 File size: 19.2kb, 176.4kb : 750 x 725
Hours Volunteered: 504
Volunteers: 9
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19-25
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