Bamfield – Intro to Marine Sciences

One Sunday morning in late September, Mr. GeoK dropped K and I at the Calgary International Airport a few minutes before 6 o’clock. A throng of grade 9 students (and their parents) already crowded the WestJet check-in area. Shortly after we joined the mass, boarding passes were distributed. Once all the members of group 6 received their passes and checked their bags, I chaperoned my group of 9 students through security. By 8 o’clock, we were in the air and headed for Victoria.

After safely landing, it took about 30 minutes to collect 110 bags and sort them into two busloads. I boarded the first bus to leave the airport, but about a half hour later we were pulled over to the side of the road, waving at the other charter bus as it drove past. The cool temperature and heavy rainfall meant the malfunctioning defroster on our bus was a significant safety concern. So about an hour and a half later, with buckets of rain still coming down, a small team of students helped the parent volunteers transfer all the bags onto another bus and then we continued our journey towards Bamfield, for our five-night stay at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

The long and winding hard-packed gravel road to BamfieldAfter stopping in Port Alberni to pick-up (what turned out to be a very late) lunch and use restrooms, we began the final two-hour stretch of our trip, along a somewhat winding, hard-packed gravel (sort of logging) road. We arrived just in time to stow our bags in our dorm rooms before heading off to the cafeteria for supper. Students spent the evening in the RIX Centre, where their Humanities teachers introduced them to the haiku challenge and other writing activities that would occupy most of their time over the next four evenings.

West BamfieldThe weather cleared considerably by Monday morning and I took advantage of a few minutes before breakfast to photograph the sunrise and West Bamfield (just across the inlet). At 8:30 a.m., I accompanied group 6 to “Seabirds and Plastics” – the first of 8 indoor labs/lectures we enjoyed over the four days of programming. We learned about the adaptations that help seabirds survive, looked at characteristics that are common to four broad groups of seabirds (such as feather type, body shape, wing shape, foot position), learned about the great Pacific garbage gyre (link) and sources of plastic pollution in our oceans. Then students had the opportunity to examine a prepared seabird specimen and analyze the contents of its stomach when it died.

I really enjoyed this lab, but I know the students had a lot more fun in our second lab of the morning: “Marine Invertebrate Diversity in Barkley Sound“. The instructor introduced the five classes of invertebrates found in Barkley Sound, including characteristics and species. Then students had lots of time with the touch tanks – jellies, sea cucumbers and crabs were particularly popular. Finally, the instructor demonstrated predator / prey reactions with a sunflower star as predator. The sea cucumber and scallop prey reactions garnered the most reaction from the students. Here are some of the marine specimens they had the opportunity to examine up close…

Reflections on Gunner InletAfter lunch, we explored some nearby trails. Our excursion leader shared lots of information about “Temperate Rainforest Ecology“. The most interesting thing I learned is that when bears capture salmon along Gunner Inlet (see photo), they often drag the fish into the rainforest to eat. The unfinished portions of the fish are an excellent source of fertilizer and species diversity is much greater in areas where this happens compared to areas of temperate rainforest a little further inland. The students took part in a game of information leap frog and then had a bit of time to relax while they played two rounds of the camouflage game. I took advantage of the short break from chaperone duties to take a few intentional camera movement photos of the giant western red cedars…

Our final lab of the day was all about “Seaweed“. After an introduction to the identification, ecology and human use of seaweed, students rotated through three activities. In the wet lab, they used dichotomous keys to identify various samples. They demonstrated their understanding of seaweed characteristics by creating their own dichotomous keys. And finally, working in groups, they thought up a new seaweed based consumer product and prepared a poster to pitch their ideas to their classmates. This was one of four labs that included student presentations.

My brain was stuffed full of new information by the time supper break rolled around at 6 pm (beef or vegetarian stroganoff with peach strudel for dessert).

Sears Tower and I went out for a walk after supper. We DNF’d one geocache and successfully found another (that our oldest GeoKid found back in September 2010 but didn’t tell us, so we never logged). Then to end the first evening, we joined everyone else in the RIX centre for a slideshow/video and haiku work session.

Stay tuned over the weekend for a couple more posts covering the rest of my time in Bamfield, site of the absolutely amazing grade 9 trip for students at the Calgary Science School.

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