July 7, 2011
After a delicious lunch of enchiladas, we brushed the trail and removed fennel in the afternoon with the Conservancy members. As a unit our fennel removal skills are definitely improving by the day and we are taking them out of the ground with increased efficiency. Dan prefers the shovel but my weapon of choice is the pulaski, which is like a fireman’s axe with an axe on one side and an adze on the other. The shovel is quick, efficient, and can pop out smaller fennel easily, but the larger fennel with ridiculously strong roots that go deep into the ground are best taken down by the blades of the pulaski. Sometimes the huge fennel plants have to be taken out in parts to sufficiently expose the root. We worked hard for a few hours and managed to clear a substantial area of fennel, but we still have quite a ways to go in our battle against the invasive fennel population. Great day overall.
July 6, 2011
Today we helped Ellen Kelley, assistant director of education, finish creating a bison bench. The bench was started as part of an ongoing collaboration between USC Alternative Spring Breaks crews and Wrigley, to create a trail from the bottom of the hill to the dining hall as well as an outdoor classroom. The 2011 USC Alternative Spring Break group was unable to finish the bench due to misunderstanding with the staff, so our task was to make a plaster to cover the bench.
We lifted off the blue tarp covering the bench and rinsed it out with a hose. Then we prepared our workspace. We made a huge circular nest out of hay and added a silver tarp into the nest. Then we layered the ground with hay. Afterwards we prepared the ingredients. We shoveled 15 gallons of sand and 5 gallons of clay. We poured the sand into the nest while Sabrina mixed it with her feet. I sprayed the bison bench, getting it wet and damp, while Dan and Ellen searched for bison manure. After obtaining the bison waste, Miller mixed it with water, creating a pasty consistency. Dan mixed the clay with water then added it to the nest. I jumped in with Sabrina to help blend the muddy concoction. Ellen realized we need cooked flour so she made it in the kitchen. We also figured out we didn’t have enough clay. So after lunch, we went to get more from the bone yard. We sifted 5 gallons of clay, and poured it into the huge mixture. The sifting process was a bit tedious. We had to wear masks as the finer dust kicked up in the air because of the wind. We also filtered the clay twice. Sabrina and I continued to stomp through the mix as Dan, Miller, and Ellen added the sifted clay in a gradual manner. Soon afterwards, we added cooked flour and 2 gallons of water. It looked like chocolate milk. Throughout the mixing, we folded and flipped the mixture to make sure there was an even consistency. Sabrina and I gauged the mixture based on the texture. It was first thick and hard then as we added more of the ingredients it got really sticky, gooey, and muddy to a point it attracted flies and wasps. Then we added the finishing touches: a gallon of bison manure and cattail puffs. The bison manure was gross and I was squeamish about stepping in it. But by time it was mixed, I couldn’t even tell what it was. Those last two ingredients were the binding elements of the plaster.
At last, we had our plaster! Dan and Miller used buckets to scoop the mixture, while Sabrina and I used our feet to fill the bucket. We smeared the plaster on the surface of the bench and slowly spread it on the sides. Then we evened out the mix. It was a challenge because we put too much and we didn’t realize how thick the coating was. We took out lumps that didn’t mix properly and cleaned up excess mix that touched the ground. When we finished, we rinsed out our workspace and placed ladders around the bench. Before we left I saw a thick layer of plaster beginning to dry up, it was pretty cool.
July 5, 2011
Today we had a second visit from our advisor Lisa Collins and this time she brought along some special guests; Lisa Chung a USC graduate student in the School of Animation and Digital Arts and Michelle a visiting international student in the same department. This was Lisa and Michelle’s second visit out to Catalina. As a part of one of their animation classes, they took a visit out to Wrigley and animated some of the ecosystems of Catalina. Lisa showed us her project from this trip and it is truly spectacular! (Check out Spontaneous Sea-mphony) The goal of their visit today is to begin an animation about the work we’ve been doing on the trail.
We began the morning by leading Lisa and Michelle up the trail and talking about our purpose for the project. They were so receptive to learning about all of the science! We taught them about how fennel grows into monocultures, and how you have to remove the entire root in order to keep the plant from growing back. As we continued talking, Lisa shared with us her goal for the animation: to help scientists illustrate a complex idea in a visual that is easy for the general public to understand. Often times it is difficult to bridge the gap between technical experts and the public, which is a unfortunate considering the general public is often affected by the actions experts. This is especially true in Catalina where the Conservancy is the manager of the land that local residents rely on for recreation and some for their livelihood. I hope that the animation Lisa creates can serve as a tool to share the work of the Conservancy with the community and help explain the science behind restoration.
Lisa asked us for some inspiration for the animation and two ideas came to mind. The first was an idea Charlie de la Rosa is always focused on- the future. Charlie often talks to us about points in time, how the island we are seeing today is only a snap shot of what the island has looked like and what it will look like. He often uses the phrase, if we don’t act now “what will this landscape look like in 50 years?”. When we remove fennel, our goal is not just for the landscape to look fennel free for the next year, it is so the island isn’t entirely taken over by fennel monocultures in 50 years. So we proposed this animation idea to Lisa- showing a landscape treated for fennel in a 50 year time-span versus a landscape not treated with fennel in fifty years. The second idea was comparing tactics for fennel removal, mowing (short term removal) and digging out the entire plant. In both animations we wanted to have the idea of a fennel monoculture versus a native, biodiverse landscape illustrated.
Both animators were really interested in getting some good photos of all of the plant parts of the fennel, so we spent some time taking them around and showing them different plants. I was truly impressed with their attention to detail. After we talked business, we all sat in the toyon grove and learned a little bit more about animation and the program that Lisa and Michelle are a apart of. The animation program is an extremely intense program that requires not only artistic talent but outstanding time management skills. These two traits are imperative considering 1 second of animation requires 24 drawings. I repeat 1 second of film requires 24 drawings! This truly amazed me, and I have a lot of respect for the work these women do. Lisa really seems like an expert and is super professional. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!
In the afternoon, we spent time with Lisa Collins discussing our plans for the research project. We talked as a group and decided to focus on the affect different disturbances have on the native plant communities and the growth of invasive species. Our plan is to sample soils in the area of the 2007 Avalon fire, and the 2011 Two Harbors fire and look at plant communities in each region. We will be analyzing the soil samples for total nitrogen and pH. I am really looking forward to working on this project! I have never had an opportunity to work with soil chemistry and I think our findings will provide knowledge that the conservancy can use to guide management strategies regarding fires.
July 2, 2011
Since I had been regularly waking up before seven for the past couple of weeks I had no problem hopping out of bed with plenty of time to spare before the 10:00 am Saturday at the Lab, an open to the public outreach program run by Wrigley. Losing track of the time, I suddenly realized I was going to have to hustle to make it to Wrigley on time. Fortunately I had borrowed one of the Specialized mountain bikes, available at Wrigley, donned the requisite safety gear and hit the dusty trail, literally. The ride to Two Harbors, though uphill, was able to be taken at a leisurely pace and was quite pleasant. Unfortunately, being in a rush had quite a different effect on biking uphill on dirt roads. If I stood while going uphill the rear tire would spin without my weight pressing down on it and the downhills were rapid, causing me to fishtail both a harrowing and thrilling experience as I would take a couple of the hairpin turns along the road to Wrigley. Eventually I arrived at Wrigley in one piece, parked the bike and stopped by the office to talk to Sean Connor, Wrigley Manager, and met up with Sabrina and Alex. He talked over the general plan of Saturday at the Lab, gave us a cheat sheet to reference during the tour if need be and introduced me to Cheryl, a graduate student studying bacteria and protists who has been giving tours on Saturdays for awhile, and Wei, a graduate student joining Saturday at the Lab for the first time.
Once the visitors assembled Cheryl gave a history of the Wrigley facility and discussed the research focus of the facility. She then led everyone into the lecture room where she discussed her research of bacteria, including her worldwide travel and the shocking statistic that there are more bacteria in the ocean than stars in the sky. After fielding questions, Cheryl led the group through the lab facility discussing who can research at the facility and the benefits of having a Marine Protected Area right next to the lab. The tour then went to the touch tank, which the kids definitely loved, especially the “dancing” leopard shark. After the touch tank Sabrina, Alex and I gave a short discussion about island chaparral ecosystems, invasive species [with a piece of fennel for display] and our work as trail-builders. The tour ended at the Hyperbaric Chamber, a place to treat dive injuries run by USC and LA County. Karl Huggins gave the tour of the facility and is the director of the hyperbaric chamber and worked towards the development of the HUGI dive tables so that divers would not need to visit a hyperbaric chamber. Saturdays at the Lab are very informative and the people that come to Wrigley all seem to be very knowledgeable people looking to learn a little bit more about marine science and Catalina Island.
For more information on Saturday at the Lab click here.
July 1, 2011
By Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
We had a visit from Sarah Ratay, the Senior Plant Ecologist for the Conservancy today. Since this is the first time the anyone has done major work in the Deer Valley area, the Conservancy wanted to get an idea of what plants exist in this territory. So, we are completing a plant species survey much like what we did in Descanso Canyon, Avalon, except this time we are creating an entire Herbarium collection for our trail. This will be a great opportunity for us to practice our plant species identification skills and learn even more about plant and Herbarium work.
The last time we visited Sarah she gave us a field plant press, a contraption with sheets of cardboard and blotting paper sandwiched between two wooden boards strapped held together by two belts. The idea is to collect plants including their roots and flowers, place them between sheets of newspaper, then between two pieces of cardboard, and stack them inside the press and squeeze the sides together using the belts to stabilize. The goal is to squeeze the water out of the plants and have it absorbed by the newspaper so they don’t rot, essentially preserving the plants in a dried form For plants that contain a lot of water, like invasive ice plant, we add blotting paper to the mix to help absorb the excess liquid.
We started the day at the bottom of the trail and worked our way up to the first control point, off-roading and scouting around for plants. While the others started searching for plants, I worked with Sarah in determining the plant community, slope and aspect, and tracking our GPS location. We then worked together to determine the plant species associated with the community. Alex took charge of labeling all of the newspapers with the collection name and sample number. As Dan, Miller, and Sarah came back with plants we placed them in the newspaper and recorded the number of samples and the species name. Sarah would help us identify each plant and I would attempt to write the Latin species name. I had such a difficult time spelling them! But Sarah knew each plant, its common and scientific name and all of the spellings. After we finished the first site, we continued past the toyon grove to the waterfall collecting plants and recording them. By the end of the day, we had collected 20 species!
We headed home with our full plant press with instructions to keep it in a cool dry place, away from food which could encourage bacterial growth. It was a really successful day and I can’t wait to see how our specimens turn out. More on plant collection next week…