Through marine science study and research, Aquatic Adventures
has helped me to become a conservationist and leader.
Story by MARLEM RIVERA • Phtotos courtesy of AQUATIC ADVENTURES
For the past five years, I have been part
of Aquatic Adventures, a non-profit organization
that educates urban youth about
science, the ocean and nature through
tuition-free programs. While in middle
school, I participated in Aquatic Adventures
programs where I learned about marine life
and interacted with high school mentors
who helped me to have a positive outlook on
my life today and my future. Together we
explored tide pools, observed animal
behavior, and snorkeled through the kelp
forest. Growing up in the urbanized
community of City Heights in central San
Diego, I never knew these things existed!
When I entered high school in 2006, I was really excited to participate
in an Aquatic Adventures program called BAHÍA. I began the
program in the spring of my freshmen year, when we participated in
swimming lessons, studied marine science and learned research techniques.
I was paired with a high school junior named Betty, who was
my mentor in the program. Betty helped me to become a stronger
leader and to be more outgoing. As a native Spanish speaker, I would
be able to translate for her once we arrived in Baja California.
In June, we left San Diego and all of our electronics and distractions
behind and traveled 400 miles south to Bahía de Los
Angeles. When we drove over the last set of mountains and
approached the coast, I saw the most amazing view of the islands
and a sparkling sea, and I knew that I was about to have the experience
of a lifetime.
While in Bahía de Los Angeles, we lived in the beautiful Vermillion
Sea Field Station. World renowned scientists had also lived
there, and I was proud to follow in the footsteps of these scientists.
As part of the BAHÍA program, the students work alongside scientists
to conduct conservation-based research. Betty and I chose to be
part of the wetlands research group. Each day we traveled by car or
by panga to reach one of several of the pristine wetlands in the area.
We studied the factors influencing their biodiversity, like wetland
size. I was surprised that the wetlands play such an important role in
our world. The wetlands are so full of life. I observed thousands of
fiddler crabs living along the tidal creek and found giant holes a
meter deep dug by much larger crabs. Juvenile fish that grow up in
the wetland swam all around us as we collected data.
To learn more about these rarely studied habitats, we used
several research methods. We made pitfall traps from coffee cans
and plastic bottle tops, which we buried in the mud and left for 24
hours. When we returned we would count the small invertebrates
that fell through the hole of the bottle top and into the can. We also
set small metal traps to catch fish living within the wetland. Using
all these data, we looked for relationships between the biodiversity
and characteristics of the wetlands. Being a scientist is really cool
because of this kind of field work.
We shared our data with Pronatura, a non-governmental organization in Mexico that
promotes conservation of habitat and fosters a connection between humans and nature,
and to the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, a Mexican government
agency that manages protected areas like Bahía de Los Angeles. These data may be especially
important to these groups now, as the area was recently declared a biosphere reserve. Our
data may help to ensure that the unique species found in the wetlands are preserved. This
is especially important as the area faces future change from increased human development
and global climate change.
As a group of young marine scientists, we were guided by our research partners Dr.
Theresa Talley of U.C. Davis, and Dr. Drew Talley of the San Francisco Bay National
Estuarine Research Reserve. Working with them
made me realize that I was contributing real
science by gathering data to understand
an ecosystem that no one in the world
Since I am the oldest in my
family, I will be the first to
graduate high school and attend
college. I want to create a path
for my siblings and show them
another side to life. Back in San
Diego, my commitment to
wetland conservation remains
strong. I have developed such a
deep respect for wetlands, I
work as an intern on a project to
restore a local wetland and I want
to be a leader in conserving what
we have left.
I am also committed to helping
younger students develop a greater respect for
the environment as a mentor for middle school
students in the same Aquatic Adventures programs that I was involved in years ago. I feel
grateful for the opportunities to participate in these programs because not many Hispanic
females my age have the chance to explore science and education the way I have been able to.
I plan to return to Bahía de Los Angeles next summer to learn even more about the
world and my place in it. I look forward to making new contributions to science, and I
cannot wait to feel the familiar thrill as our panga races alongside a pod of dolphins playing
in the Sea of Cortez.
After spending an incredible five weeks living, studying and conducting research on the
Sea of Cortez from the town of Bahía de Los Angeles, I realized that I want to spend my life
working to protect the environment and the natural areas that still exist.
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