Bamfield – Afternoon on the Alta

By the second morning at Bamfield, the grade 9 students had long since worked out that there was generally an advantage to being at the front of the food line. The food was a little hotter and they had their choice of tables – not insignificant given that some had ocean views while others provided a view of nothing but four walls!

Group 6 started the day in the lower main lab learning about “Climate Change and Oceans“. After reviewing the carbon cycle, students took part in a short mind-mapping session to prompt thinking about the potential effects of climate change on oceans. Then they broke into smaller groups to undertake experiments designed to answer questions like “What happens to the pH of water when CO2 is added?” and “How do changes in water salinity and temperature affect currents?”. At the end of the lab, each group presented their findings.

This was one of my favourite labs over the course of our four days at Bamfield. Why? Probably because there was a lot of “try and fail, so try again” going on. Actually there was enough “try and fail” that the parent volunteers in the room got to join some of the groups in brainstorming other possible approaches to their challenges. I joined the group working on creating layers of coloured water, using temperature and salinity to create the layers. The students in the group really persevered, finally succeeding after 5 or 6 unsuccessful attempts.

But I think the students more easily achieved the results they were after in the “Experimental Marine Biology” session. This lab started with a review of the scientific method (observations, question(s), hypothesis, experiment, analysis, conclusions). Then, building on knowledge acquired from the Marine Invertebrate Diversity lab, students conceived, planned and ran their own experiments. At the end of the lab, each group presented their results and conclusions. Based on my observations, this was one of the students’ favourite labs and they probably wished they had a little bit more time for their experiments.

BMSC docksAfter lunch, Group 6 boarded a skiff for a tour of Barkley Sound. During our second excursion – “Oceanography – Plankton Tow” – students recorded data on visibility, water temperature and salinity using Secchi plates and a water sensor. Then we dragged a plankton net a couple of meters below the surface for several minutes as we headed back to the dock. This outing inspired me to compose this entry for the haiku challenge:

plankton net hauled up
chilled brown slurry poured in jug:
microscopic world

From the dock, we headed to the “Plankton Lab and Reproduction” classroom, our jug of plankton carried by one of the students. Once in the lab, we had ample opportunity to view the plankton samples through microscopes and students did their best to match what they saw with the phytoplankton and zooplankton diagrams on reference cards. The instructor also turned on a video feed from another microscope that showed the successful fusion of sand dollar eggs and sperm and cultures of developing sand dollar embryos started by other groups earlier in the week.

Our third day began with our penultimate classroom lab: “Marine Conservation Case Studies“. The instructor led students through a discussion of various threats to marine species: climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, (human) population, pollution and over-consumption. Then students divided themselves into small groups to review case study materials of a species at risk. Once again, participants exhibited excellent presentation skills, sharing their newly acquired knowledge about the animal’s biology, threats to its survival, what’s currently being done in terms of conservation measures and their ideas about things each of us can do to help.

To round out the morning, Group 6 joined three other groups for an excursion to West Bamfield to explore the rocky intertidal zone at Aguilar Point. I’m afraid I don’t know much about this activity; I asked for permission to go off down the boardwalk in search of a geocache and by the time I walked a little over a km and undertook the brief search for GC29Q61 – Bamfield’s Button Lane (2-star difficulty/5-star terrain), I barely had time to take a few photographs on my return walk and then rejoin the group before it was time to head back to the other side of the inlet.

Port side viewRight after lunch on day 3, Group 6 returned to the dock for an afternoon on the Alta. This excursion was – by far – my most favourite part of days 2 and 3. We enjoyed the short trip to the open ocean, including a detour past Folger’s Island to see juvenile male Stellar and California sea lions. Besides the opportunity to take some great photos, I really enjoyed the opportunity to make some close-up observations of marine species recovered by dredging the sea floor.

Sea foam

Our final lab for the day was “Life on Docks and Pilings“. My mind was still at sea, so I left it to the students to observe and identify marine species growing on ropes and cables strung from the BSMC docks. Teachers and BMSC instructors were on hand to help out with species identification, too.

By the time we headed up the hill to the cafeteria a few minutes before 6 pm, everyone was tired and hungry from a day spent mostly outdoors.

The students did a great job of re-focusing after supper, working on their poems and other reading activities before heading back to the docks to observe bioluminescence. They put in long days and worked hard all week.

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