by Rosemary Sieve
Snapping and billowing, the sails of the Spirit of Dana Point catch the wind as she leaves the safe harbor of Dana Point and heaves to toward Catalina Island. “Stand by on the bow,” Captain Adams calls to his mates and the reply, “heave ho,” is caught up in the breezes as the Tallship ploughs northwest across the blue Pacific. This ship is a 118ft. replica of a Revolutionary schooner and has joined the Tallship Pilgrim, a replica of the brig described by Richard Dana in his classic book ‘Two Years Before the Mast’. Both Tallships provide students with real life experiences of 1800’s sailors. These two magnificent vessels are a part of the Ocean Institute, Dana Point, California’s new ocean education center and a destination point from the world over. A direct contrast to the tallships is the state-of-the-art R/V Sea Explorer. This boat is a floating laboratory of the Institute’s with five distinct teaching areas fully equipped with video microscopes manned by scientists and students who check the ecological health of the ocean floor by the ‘ooze’ collected.
Luci Francis, Communications Associate of the Institute, proudly shows off the new center and rightly so. “We want to inspire the students,” Luci remarks, “they may ask the question that there are no answers to. Then they may go on to discover the answers.”
The twenty-year vision to build this unique center in an environmentally responsible design of wood and stone has been completed and not only suits the terrain around it but also optimizes natural light. The surrounding grounds are enhanced with indigenous plants, such as dune grasses, where one can sit in peace while visualizing the creatures of the deep, listen to the pounding waves of the ocean, or maybe contemplate the earthquake fault line that has been exposed by scientists. Know also that any water runoff from the nearby cliffs and parking lots, that may cause pollution in the ocean, is treated by aquatic filtration equipment that percolates the water through sand filters.
A treat lies inside the six beautiful buildings here in Dana Point. Specifically designed rounded tanks have been installed to raise jellyfish allowing observers to watch the jellyfish’s whole life cycle. Looking at these undulating, and ghostly white, moon jellyfish, is a delight. Another treat is the man-made tide pool where you can see the brightly colored starfish clinging to the side of the rocks, and if you’re lucky you may even see the illusive sea cucumber hiding in the crevices. In the sea learning center, one may pick up and admire the living organisms and ask questions of the many knowledgeable volunteers waiting to interact with you. Discover why hermit crabs need to exchange their shells as they grow; or which underwater creature can change its color and who eats with a beak. Experience sea floor science (videoconferencing is also in the future plans) and participate in experiments in ice tectonics, seismology and underwater archaeology. Or, how about staying over night in a huge tent-cabin on top of the surf science laboratory and participating in inter-tidal research at the Dana Point Marine Life Refuge? This program, incidentally, is especially designed for High School certification.
Distinguished lectures and teacher workshops will be held in the new conference center. Visitors will be able to examine the ‘Sea Floors in Space’ exhibit or maybe operate a JPL ice borer camera and learn about geology and core sampling. Young students will learn math from watching the octopus use its eight legs or will be encouraged to write poems about the sea. Students will also use other senses such as hearing while listening through a hydrophone to the sounds of snapping shrimps or to animals scraping algae off rocks. These classes have proven to be an intriguing way to develop and stimulate a child’s natural curiosity.
The Ocean Institute has been luring and inspiring children and adults since 1977 immersing students in award winning programs about the ocean and the environment. The Institute has also been warning us all that the oceans and marine resources are in trouble, taking pains to ensure that the public will become more aware of these threats through education.
You can really make a difference to this nationally recognized organization during the coming holidays by making a gift to the Ocean Institute either by donating your time or by making a contribution. Shopping for an unusual gift in the well-stocked and interesting gallery for holiday gifts is a must. And – if you are looking for a special gift for the person who has everything, how about a membership with the Institute or possibly a donation to the Ocean Education Center? You could possibly have their name - or yours - engraved on marble for posterity, make a difference to our society – and at the same time get a tax write off. What better gift could there be?
phone no. (949) 496-2274