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On Wednesday morning, students at Cienega Elementary school excitedly greeted Havasi Wilderness Foundation founder, Marilyn Fordney and HWF Media Communication Specialist Lola West at a presentation of scientific study participation medals that took place in their school library.  Surrounded by heavy traffic on two of its four sides, Cienega Elementary is centered in Los Angeles’s bustling urban environment. Children from the school recently paid a visit to Malibu Lagoon where they learned about the 110 acres of wetland, salty marsh, and tide pools being protected on the California coast. For many of the students at Cienega, this trip offered them the opportunity to see the beach for the very first time. By the end of their field studies, students were well versed on the animals and plants that live in the area where the ocean meets the shore.

After an animated “good morning” greeting from two second and third grade classes, the 50 students gathered in the library were asked to tell us about their favorite experience at the Lagoon. Hands shot up in the air—waving frantically— as eager kids seemed unable to contain their excitement. Little learners expressed their enchantment with the wetlands as they described seeing scrub jays, horn sharks, and lobsters while participating in a scavenger hunt.  Following the discussion around wildlife at the lagoon, each student was awarded a HWF medal and a bookmark. Their enthusiasm to learn more about the coastal environment at Malibu Lagoon, has inspired us to highlight interesting facts about some of their favorites— namely horn sharks, lobsters, and the scrub jays.

Horn Sharks

Growing to a maximum length of just 3.3 feet, the horn shark is a slow-moving, smaller species of shark that seeks the shelter of dense kelp or sea caves during the day and hunts at night. Once a horn shark finds its home, they pretty much like to stay put. According to available research, the longest distance a horn shark is known to have traveled is just over 10 miles!

Though small in size, horn sharks are fitted with a powerful jaw that helps them consume prey like starfish, sea cucumber, invertebrates and bony fish. Marine biologists have discovered that horn sharks seem to have a particular fondness for crabs and sea urchins— some sharks will eat enough sea urchins to stain their teeth purple!


Lobsters are a type of crustacean (covered by a hard shell or crust) that can be found somewhere between the continental shelf and the sandy shorelines of all the world’s oceans.

A lobster’s body is comprised of a rigid exoskeleton (shell) that must be shed each time they increase in size. This process is known as molting. Before molting begins, lobsters absorb a large amount of water, causing the new shell to swell and eventually breaking down the old one. Without its shell, a lobster is soft, squishy and more vulnerable to attack, so the molting process usually takes place in the safety of their burrows or hiding places.

In the first five to seven years of its life, a lobster will molt somewhere around twenty-five times! After age seven, lobsters shed their shells once or twice a year. The largest lobster ever caught weighed over 44 pounds— now that’s A LOT of molting!

Like the horn shark, lobsters are bottom dwellers that hide in crevices during the daytime and come out to feed at night. Their diet consists of fish, snail, other crustaceans, worms, and plant life. Lobsters are hunted by a number of other species, including the bull shark. When escaping predators, a lobster will swim backward by curling and uncurling its abdomen.

Presently, lobsters are in high demand for fish eaters, and certain measures have been passed to protect the larger “breeding” lobsters from overfishing. In Maine—where lobster fishing is incredibly popular— any lobster over 5” must be returned to the ocean to help maintain the population.

Scrub Jays

Commonly confused as the blue jay, the California scrub jay is an eye-catching blue, gray and white bird that is often spotted flying around the Pacific seaboard. It enjoys spending time in dry shrublands, wood areas, and backyards from the Olympic Peninsula to Baja California.

California scrub jays are known to be rather mischievous— stealing acorns from a woodpecker’ stockpile and even from their fellow jays. In addition to acorns, scrub jays eat ticks and other parasites. If you’re lucky, you can catch the birds standing on the back of a mule deer and picking off its ticks.

The oldest known California Scrub-Jay lived for over 15 years! Tagged in California in 1932, the elderly scrub jay was found in 1948 in the same state (allaboutbirds.com,2018).

Art from Cienega student

As we prepared to present students with their medals for excellence in wilderness studies, one young girl asked Marilyn where her interest with nature began. “I grew up surrounded by trees and spent a lot of time outdoors, so I’ve always had a special relationship with nature.”  The importance of spending time out in nature —among the trees, seas, and fields of bees— cannot be overlooked.

We at the Havasi Wilderness Foundation are always grateful to spend time with the next generation of consumers, producers, and wilderness experts. It is important to remember that each and everyone has a connection to the world around us. The harder you work to understand that connection, the better the health of the planet will be. Until next time, remember to GET OUTSIDE AND EXPLORE YOUR WORLD! 

Special thanks to Principal Kimberly Wright, teachers Nina Goebert and Ana McVay, student-teacher Molly Tuthill, parent volunteer Millie Dunbar, and librarian, Phyllis Mcreary for inviting us to meet with the students at Cienega Elementary School. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit!  Thank you to all the students who handed in assignments; we are thrilled to learn about your adventures at the Malibu Lagoon.

Cienega students at the Malibu Lagoon

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