Anacapa Island, Biology, Field Trip

From the mountains to the sea, Southern California serves as more than a scenic backdrop for a Pomona College education. Here, the outdoors is a vast classroom, as was the case when Associate Professor of Biology Nina Karnovsky’s Advanced Animal Ecology class set off for a recent day on Anacapa Island.

Anacapa is part of the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of California and home to the Scripps’s murrelet, a rare endemic seabird. The problem: humans over the years have introduced invasive species like the ice plant to the island, choking out native plants that are vital to the island’s ecosystem. A major restoration effort is underway to improve habitat for the bird which needs native vegetation for nesting.

To participate in those restoration efforts, Karnovsky’s students spent the day planting seedlings of more than 350 native plants that have been crowded out over the years and repotted hundreds more. The plants include coreopsis, alkali heath, gum plant, yarrow, needlegrass, California barley, giant ryegrass, live-forever, buckwheat and goldenbush. Students then spent the evening with conservation biologists, learning about their careers. For Savanah Bird ’18, finding out about what the biologists’ lives are like was more than just small talk.

“It made me realize that I want to do remote conservation work when I graduate,” says Bird.

Then, back in Claremont, students set to work on creative ways to educate the public about the situation on Anacapa. Emily Rockhill ’18 launched an Instagram account (anacapaisland47). Jack Little ’18 and Tali Laspi SC’18 wrote a catchy song:

Rat eradication for bird conservation

Seedling translocation for plant restoration

Island exploration and species preservation

Birds on Anacapa, saved from disasta!

Bird created a board game –players overcome conservation setbacks to win — to bring attention to the issues. Jacob Aragon PZ’18 and Lauren Hartz SC’18 produced children’s books on Anacapa’s restoration story.

Karnovsky wanted her students to get experience doing all aspects of science, she says, and had her students design the course syllabus and choose literature to discuss. They wrote papers, grant proposals and shared their findings in poster and oral presentations. Then they literally got their hands dirty in Anacapa with the planting, rounding out their classroom experience.

“After reading about the ecological dilemmas faced by the island’s inhabitants, it was really impactful to help out with the work being done,” says Rockhill.

Karnovsky says in Anacapa, students learned how hard it is to restore an ecosystem after damage has been done and they witnessed firsthand the passion of biologists. But Karnovsky says the trip offered the students something else, too:

“They got to experience the joy of making the planet a better place.”