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List of "In the Spotlight" Features

ACES Teachers Brave the Waves


This past summer, the ACES team conducted two teacher training workshops—one at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City and one at Stanford University in California. After the Stanford training, the new ACES teachers got a very special treat—the chance to go out on the ocean on NOAA's West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries Research Vessel Fulmar.

Guided by ocean experts Dan Howard and Jennifer Stock of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Carol Keiper of Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, and Jennifer Saltzman of Stanford University, the ACES teachers braved tough weather and rough seas to get a first-hand view of the amazing productivity of the California Current System. Once aboard the R/V Fulmar, the group headed out the Golden Gate of San Francisco and observed near shore birds such as Common Murres, Pelicans, Cormorants, Grebes, and Gulls galore. The group made it all the way west to the Farallon Islands, part of the San Francisco US Fish and Wildlife Refuge System, and the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. These islands are 'Sentinels of the Golden Gate' holding history that paved the way for conservation on these vital islands. Historically, the islands were inhabited by lighthouse keepers, and Gold Rush 'eggers' who collected and sold valuable seabird eggs to make a dime in the booming city of San Francisco. These days of harvest are long over and now the US Fish and Wildlife Service and PRBO Conservation Science preserve, protect, enhance, and monitor these important islands that are home to 15 species of seabirds, breeding and resting pinnipeds, and an undisturbed intertidal zone.

The group of teachers braved the rough waves to the Farallones, but were treated to great views of Common Murres, Elephant Seals, Northern Fur Seals, California Sea Lions, Tufted Puffins, Pigeon Guillemots and more. Most residents in the Bay Area don't even know these islands exist!

To take a look at how the water density and temperature change at depth, when we launched a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Density) instrument into the water and Dan Howard led a discussion about oceanography and how we are working to understand how oceanographic conditions influence productivity for the food web in the national marine sanctuaries. He discussed how these environmental factors affect marine life including plankton, fish, seabirds, mammals, and invertebrates.

We conducted a plankton tow off the stern, and collected a water sample for the State Dept of Health that monitors potentially toxic species of plankton that can affect harvestable shellfish near shore. Everyone had a chance to observe the live plankton swimming around under the microscope. Amazing little wonders these plankton are, so vital and important to our food web and atmosphere.

On the flying bridge, Carol Keiper helped the teachers to identify seabirds and marine mammals including Common Murres, Puffins, California Sea Lions, Harbor Porpoises, Northern Fur Seals, and Harbor Seals. Carol demonstrated how scientists note and record the locations and numbers of these animals for their records in the sanctuaries to assess when animals are here and most vulnerable to potentially harmful oil spills.

Returning to the calmer water of SF Bay, we all reflected on how important these real life experiences for teachers and students can help make the connection to how crucial the largest habitat on earth is to the functioning of our planet.

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