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Students conduct research for global census

LJHS class takes part in marine study

BY GREG ALDER

Contributor

Students of Dave James’ marine science class at La Jolla High recently took part in a worldwide science project - Census of Marine Life - at Bird Rock, thus bringing wet and slimy life to what they’d been studying in the classroom.

“It was nice because we’d been seeing slide shows in class, but then we got to actually touch things,” senior Kelsey Dowdy said.

As part of the Natural Geography in Shore Areas project (NaGISA), which is part of the Census of Marine Life, James’ 21 students laid out transect lines and quadrants - standard protocol for sampling an intertidal zone - at Bird Rock on May 28. They counted invertebrates and measured the percentage of algae coverage. They also scraped seaweed off the rocks, which will later be identified and analyzed.

The sampling at Bird Rock will then be compared with samplings at other sites around the world. The Census of Marine Life is a global network of researchers in more than 80 nations whose aim is to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the oceans. Its results will be released in 2010.

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According to the Census of Marine Life Web site, several reasons make such a report long overdue. Better information is needed to conserve diversity and reverse losses of habitat. The project also hopes to increase coastal community marine awareness.

James said it was an honor for the students to be involved in such a prestigious project.

“The students did a really good job,” James said. “They got to see how real fieldwork is done. It’s hard work. It’s more than just playing in the tide pools.” As Dowdy explained, “You have to be more observant than if you were just strolling along,

but it’s kind of more fun because you end up seeing things you never would’ve known existed.”

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For example? The southern kelp crab, Taliepus nuttallii.

“They’re about the size of your hand and dark red,” Kelsey said.

From now on, sampling will be done every year at Bird Rock for at least the next 50 years, James said. Next year, it will be done by another set of students as part of James’ marine science course.

And in this way it will be an essentially student-driven project. One of NaGISA’s goals is to get students involved.

As for Kelsey, she will attend UC Santa Barbara in the fall to study environmental science.

Of the day at Bird Rock, she said, “I realized that this could be your job.”