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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

Environmental Outdoor Education

It has been a long grueling pandemic for us all. Students and teachers have faced an almost impossible task of continuing their education during this time of uncertainty. The Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCD) has worked hard to keep its environmental education program running throughout all of this. With the outdoors being one of the only safe places to go, it has been critical they continue to educate and encourage students from across Los Angeles to learn about, and experience nature.

The RCD converted their whole program to bring the education virtually to students, with online classes in dozens of schools, videos about wildlife, and nature journals that allowed students to discover nature in and around their own homes.

Thankfully we have gotten through the worst of it and the RCD has been able to lead programs outdoors once again! We bring you some highlights from the most recent adventure at Malibu Lagoon today. For background, Malibu Lagoon is connected to the Malibu river that deposits water from a good portion of the Santa Monica mountains into the sea. The sediment and water coming from the canyon releases sand and nutrients that help smooth the sea floor and create a healthy intertidal ecosystem.

This creates Malibu beach and one of the world's most famous surf and film spots. Before it reaches the sea however, the fresh water from the canyon mixes with saltwater brought up by the tides in Malibu lagoon. This creates a critical ecosystem for California's wildlife, and is home to a host of amazing birds, plants, fish, reptiles, mammals, and more. The mixture of salt and freshwater allows specialized plants to grow here, which in turn makes food and shelter for hundreds of species of insects and plankton. The shallow water of the lagoon, the insects, and plankton provide essential breeding ground for many species of fish. These again. provide food for dozens of species of sea and shore birds. As you can see, the ecosystem is thriving and jam packed full of life.

The RCD brings these students out to experience this wildlife first hand. As there's no better way to learn than to see, hear, smell, and experience nature while being a part of it. The RCD has a few special ways they do this. First they teach the students the same lesson I detailed in the paragraph above, with visual props from the nature around. The lesson is split up into multiple stations, the first is the microscopes to look at the plankton that feed the fish.

Inside these microscopes the students can see hundreds of organisms swimming and twisting around that are collected straight from the lagoon. This is accompanied by a species guide so that students can identify and learn exactly what they are looking at. From funny looking flatworms, to dragonfly larvae, the students can get a sense of the microscopic world.

Next the students gear up with binoculars to go see some of the fantastic birds that poke around the mudflats with their long beaks, and skim the surface of the water with sharp talons to hook fish. Similar to the plankton, students have field guides they can check what type of heron they are watching gobble down a fish. Shouts of “Osprey, Osprey!” fill the air and 20 pairs of binoculars swivel to watch the fish eating specialist tear into his lunch.

Another one of the sections takes the students on a hike around the lagoon and out to the beach. Along the way they stop and learn about the plants that have adapted to live in the salty banks of the lagoon. They may also get lucky to see a lizard skirt into the bushes or a bunny freeze and twitch its long ears. In the end, they travel to the tidepools and learn about the life surrounding the shores. From mussels glommed together, to crabs picking the rocks clean of algae, students are able to truly learn and appreciate the wonderful natural world they live in.

This program allows students from all backgrounds to experience something they may never have before, and add knowledge and understanding to that experience. We are so happy to have these programs starting again and are looking forward to more!

Photos are from the RCD Education program, and of students work describing their adventure at the lagoon and their appreciation of the experience!

Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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