Channel Islands Blog By Megan Gurer (Junior) and Sheena Gee (Senior) July 12-16, 2016

Day 1: Leave from Salinas Amtrak at 11:40 AM. Arrive at UCSB at 6:25PM, have dinner, and

get acclimated to the dorms.

Morning: Wow was today so much fun! 1st day on the trip! When we arrived at the station around 11, we knew that this was going to be a memorable experience. All our chaperones were there including two amazing teachers, Mr. Byrd and Mrs. Aurilio who were so knowledgeable about Marine Biology. We met the heads of the Scholastic Expedition program and we took an iconic group photo at the train station. The train ride itself was gorgeous with breathtaking views of the California Coast, great time to enhance our photography skills. We also had lots of fun playing Uno with Mr. Byrd and the other kids. A great way to get to know one another and the teachers better.


Beautiful coastline that we saw during the train ride

Evening: Our train arrived at Santa Barbara at around 6:30 where the Scholastic Expeditions had huge vans to bring us to UCSB. Once we got there, we were so amazed. UCSB doesn’t feel like  a school, it feels like a resort. It even has palm trees, so cool. As we explored in plaza, we heard dance music. It turns out that there was a student government camp at UCSB the same time we were here. We even saw some of our schoolmates at the dance, what a small world. Then we went to bed early so we could see the sun rise.


Resort or school? We were in awe at how beautiful the campus was.


Perfect Santa Barbara beach.

Day 2: Meet Undergrad students at REEF, explore the UCSB campus, go to Bob Ballard presentation, go on boat. 

Morning: Today, Sheena, Megan, Reilly, and Brandon got up at 5:30 am to see the sun rise. Even though we were tired, the beautiful sight was worth it and we got some great photos.


A typical morning at UCSB.

After we met up with the group and had breakfast, we went to the REEF which is an onsite aquarium that UCSB has with touch pools. There we met the three undergraduate students who were going to join us on the boat: Kimmy, Gabe, and Chance, who were all so amazing. We got a behind the scenes tour and got to see and touch so many cool animals like sea cucumbers, sea hairs, bat stars, and sea urchins.  After that, we walked around on the beach and learned all about the kelp forest ecosystem that we have here in CA and how fast it can grow (over 1-2 ft a day, isn’t that amazing). It was so fun to tour the campus in the daylight and have the undergrads show us all the cool marine biology labs!


A baby horn shark and red sea urchin we saw in the Channel Islands. Aren’t they cute?

Afternoon/Evening: After lunch in the dining rooms we got to learn about the place we were traveling to, the amazing Channel Islands. Just some of the incredible animals we were hoping to see included whales, dolphins, pelicans, rays (and we saw all of these, stay tuned). We also learned about all the types of fish that lived in the islands so we could ID them underwater. Then we played some super fun ice breaker games to get to know each other and had dinner before leaving UCSB. Although we were sad to leave the campus we were excited to attend a presentation by Bob Ballard himself, the man who discovered the Titanic and many other underwater sunken vessels. We even got to say hello to the scientists who live on his underwater submarine, the Nautilus. Once the presentation was over we finally saw the boat we’d be staying in for a few days, the Truth. It was really nice and big with cozy bunks, lots of space. We would be docked in Santa Barbara all night but the boat leaves at 3 in the morning. Channel Islands here we come!Inside boat

Our first night on the boat 

santa cruz island

Beautiful Santa Cruz Cove 

Day 3: Get used to life on a boat and explore beneath the surface!

Morning: Rise and shine at 6:30am! We were docked in Santa Cruz island in beautiful Albert’s cove with a gorgeous beach. Sure things are quite different here living on a boat but the most noticeable thing is the motion. Although it took a little time to get used too, we didn’t even feel it by the end of the trip. Breakfast was great with eggs and bacon and tons of fruits, yogurts, cereals, and even donuts. Once we had all eaten, we had to take a swim test to make sure we could participate in all the water activities. If we weren’t awake then, the swim test would wake us up, the water was quite cold.  Then we all took a small dingy boat to the beach and got to look around for all types of shells and animals. We found lots of red and pink snail shells, sea urchin shells, and coolest of all, a kelp crab shell. After that we went back on the boat to have a delicious lunch of orange chicken, rice, and garlic broccoli.

Afternoon/Evening: Once lunch was over we were divided into groups to take part in water activities. These included kayaking, invertebrate ID, and snorkeling in the kelp forest. Our group went kayaking first and it was simply breathtaking, there were so many interesting rock formations and caves that we went to. Plus kayaking in the kelp forest was so cool. Our kayaks landed on a small beach called Coches Prietos which was one of the many places on the islands that was inhabited by the Chumash Indians. We even found a few arrow heads and bones of fish and seals that they ate. Our next activity was invertebrate ID.


Beautiful Kelp forest off of Santa Cruz Island.

The college students dove down into the ocean to find us lots of cool specimens to look at, even some sea hairs, colorful sea slugs, and a baby horn shark. So awesome! Finally we donned wetsuits, snorkel gear, and masks, we were ready for snorkeling. Even though the water was a little cold we saw lots of amazing animals such as fish and lots and lots of kelp. Our evening was spent eating a delicious dinner of fresh caught tuna from the boat (can you believe they caught it right there!), steak, and mashed potatoes, and admiring the gorgeous sunsets as we sailed away from Santa Cruz Island


Albert’s Cove soaking up the warm sun.

Day 4: Explore Santa Rosa island by foot and discover the largest sea cave in the world!

Morning: Today was one of our favorite days of the whole trip, and it began with a great breakfast of ham, cheese, and egg croissants. After we had our fill, the boat came closer to a large misty island in the distance known as Santa Rosa. We all took a dinghy boat to a small cove on the side of the island to begin our 2 mile hike through the island. The hike was absolutely amazing. As we got to the top of the hill, we entered a Torrey Pine forest, which are only found in two places in the world (San Diego and Santa Rosa). Scientists think at one point the Channel Islands were part of mainland CA and separated off due to an earthquake. How crazy is that?


Torrey Pines forest in Santa Rosa Island.

Once we reached the bottom of the hill we reached beautiful fields with rolling hills in the distance. We even saw some wild foxes that only live on the Channel Islands. How cute! Once we reached the pier where the boat would pick us up we stared at awe at the jagged cliffs and huge sand dunes that hugged the sunny coastline

beach sand

Amazing rock formations and sand dunes on Santa Rosa Island.

Once we got on the boat we had a delicious lunch of beef, bean, and rice burritos and sailed back towards Santa Cruz Island.

Afternoon/Evening: Earlier on day three we had explored the backside of Santa Cruz Island, but now we got to explore the front. The first thing we did was sail into Painted Cave, the largest sea cave in the world that goes ¼ mile into the rock. The cave was absolutely incredible, when we sailed in the water became calm and all light and sound from the outside went away. The rocks of the cave were gorgeous greens, oranges, browns, and blacks as if the rocks have been painted themselves. We were all awestruck at its natural beauty.

dark boat

Boat and cave silhouette.

After that we found a nice little cove to snorkel and got to dive under once again. We even saw a juvenile bat ray glide by us and there were lots of beautiful rocks and sea urchins on the seafloor! Then we got to kayak in a small sea cave and look at the animals living there. We saw lots of birds and even a few bats. Last but not least was invertebrate ID, as amazing as ever. The divers caught a sea urchin that was as big as someone’s head! After we learned that sea urchins are eaten in sushi, some brave students got to taste fresh uni. At night we shone a lamp into the water and hundreds of little pelagic red crabs appeared, they were so cute. Our last night on the boat was celebrated with a feast of BBQ chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, and make your own Sundaes, a fabulous finish to an amazing week!

painted cave

Entrance to the painted cave.

Day 5: say goodbye to the Channel Islands and head home.

Morning: Last day on the boat and our trip was coming to an end. To celebrate the crew made us fresh cinnamon roll, yum!! Then as we left Santa Cruz island, we headed into a part of the ocean where the crew had seen lots of dolphins and whales last week. Sure enough they were right. A huge pod of common dolphins came right next to the bow of the boat and followed us. We also saw several whales breaching. As we headed towards sunny Santa Barbara we were sad to say goodbye to the crew and the college students who were all so great and helpful on the trip, but we were also excited to head home on the Amtrak towards Salinas.


Common Dolphins say goodbye to us on our last day!

Afternoon/Evening: Our train left at around 1:00 and was scheduled to arrive around 6:30. We chatted with friends we had made on the trip and admired Santa Barbara’s beautiful coast one last time. When we arrived we were so happy to see our families again but the memories we had on this trip will stay with us forever!



Scotts Valley High School 2015 Channel Islands Blog #5

This entry was written by Linnea Bird of Scotts Valley High School


The final day we had breakfast and began our journey back to Santa Barbara.  We were all sad that we had to leave and wished we had another day, but at the same time excited to bring our stories and interesting facts back home to our friends and families.

While we were heading back, we witnessed more dolphins swimming with us. This time there were hundreds. They were everywhere jumping and twirling as if they were showing off for us. We even saw baby dolphins that were adorable.

We got one last meal before we got off the boat and I should mention that the food was phenomenal during the entire trip. We then said our goodbyes and thanks to the leaders and ship crew whom we got to know pretty well. We got off the boat, walked over to the train station, and began our long train ride home. In all my life, I had never seen so many beautiful and exciting places and creatures! I hope to again travel through these breathtaking islands to make even more memories and see even more wonderful things.


Scotts Valley High School 2015 Channel Islands Blog #4

This entry was written by Linnea Bird of Scotts Valley High School


By breakfast on Thursday morning, everyone was up and excited for the day!  We boated over to the neighboring island, Santa Rosa, and anchored at a spot called Belcher’s Bay to take a hike through the Torrey Pines. These pines are also found in San Diego because the islands were, originally, attached to part of San Diego!

After the long hike and beautiful views, we boarded the boat. From there, we traveled back to Santa Cruz, but instead went to the nearside of the island. On the way though, our boat went through the largest sea cave in the world, where the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was shot.

The boat then anchored at a cove called Cueva Valldez, where we were again split into three groups and rotated in similar stations as the day before.  We snorkeled but brought fish counting slates this time, using pencils attached to a board, and kept track of all the fish we saw.  For example, we observed fifteen opal eyes and four garibaldis (our state fish!).

Next, we went kayaking again, but this time we kayaked to the island’s shore which was much rockier than the shore we were at on the far side of the island.  On the beach, we found a rotting seal, many crab exoskeletons and the skull of what we thought was some sort of bird.  Then, we got back into our kayaks and did another plankton count, making sure to travel at the same speed for the same distance to get an accurate measure. We later looked at the plankton under the microscope and realized the plankton was less lively and fewer in general. I believed it was because the near side is vulnerable to our coast, making the near side more likely to become polluted.

For the last station of the day, we looked at more invertebrate animals that were brought up from a dive earlier that day but this time we observed the phylum Mollusca. My favorite was the Spanish Shawl Nudibranch because of its vibrant colors. They are interesting animals because they somehow take the sting from sea anemones to make themselves poisonous toward predators.  Similar to the previous night, we ended the day playing cards, we tried to learn magic tricks, and told ghost stories. Then we went to bed for, sadly, our last night on the boat.


Scotts Valley High School 2015 Channel Islands Blog #3

This entry was written by Linnea Bird of Scotts Valley High School


The next morning most of us decided we wanted to watch the sunrise over the islands, and we all got up only to find that the fog was so thick we could not see anything. But then all of a sudden dolphins began to swim with the front of the boat as if they were playing a game. It was so amazing and made getting up at five AM worth our while.

Once we got to the first island, Santa Cruz, we had a full day planned. First we had a swim test around the boat, and then took small boats to the island to explore for about an hour. For the remainder of the day, we were split into three groups and rotated stations. The first station was snorkeling. The water was so incredibly clear and the amazing part, for me personally, was that we learned the names of all the fish and what they looked like the day before, so I felt like a real Marine Biologist being able to differentiate between all the fish.

Next, we went kayaking, learning about the different currents. We also caught plankton, which we later looked at under a microscope. One of our main goals of our excursion was to compare the plankton life on the front and backside of Santa Cruz Island to see if humans were impacting the marine life.

The last station was to observe and diagram a couple of animals from the Echino dermata phylum (spine skin) which some of the experienced divers collected that morning. My favorite was the sea cucumber and we were lucky enough to see the cucumber (Parastichopus Parvimensis) eject its insides to protect itself. It was strange, surprising, and exciting all at once.

To finish off the wonderful day, we bonded — playing cards, laughing and having a good time. When I was about to fall asleep, I heard someone yell “Wow that’s so cool!” I instantly jumped out of bed to see what the commotion was about and sure enough, I look over the edge of the boat where there was a light shining down on dozens of flying fish! It was so amazing how they would speed up and glide over the water like birds. Overall, it was a phenomenal day.


Scotts Valley High School 2015 Channel Islands Blog #2

This entry was written by Linnea Bird of Scotts Valley High School

The next morning, we started with an early breakfast and then moved on to the Ocean Science Education room for some information on what we were going to do out on the islands and general background details. It felt like we were in the shoes of a college student and got the opportunity to check out what the classrooms are like at UCSB.

The rest of the day we went down to the beach, felt the warm water, and learned even more about fish and organisms from college students themselves. Then we took turns introducing ourselves with “The Name Game” and got to know each other by sharing our hidden talents.

Later that night after dinner, we drove over to downtown Santa Barbara and had a couple hours to explore the wharf and go shopping on State Street. Afterward, we were all back at the boat and went straight to sleep to prepare for the busy days ahead.


Scotts Valley High School 2015 Channel Islands Blog #1

This entry was written by Linnea Bird of Scotts Valley High School


After the long train ride from Salinas, we finally arrived at Santa Barbara at about six o’clock. We got into vans and drove over to the campus. We then went directly to the cafeteria where we had a delicious meal and had an entertaining, yet messy, time scooping our own ice cream cones for dessert.

Next, we walked over to the UCSB Research Experience and Education Facility or “REEF” for our first look at some of the organisms we were going to see on the islands. When we finished in the REEF, we were in awe over the spectacular sunset reflected over the reservoir. We then made our way to the dorms to get a good night’s rest for the action-packed days ahead of us.


Santa Cruz High School 2015 Channel Islands Blog #5

This entry was written by Jessica Flores of Santa Cruz High School

It was bittersweet waking up on the fifth day knowing it was our last. Pelican Bay’s waters were calm and peaceful, nothing like the previous night’s travel. After breakfast, as we were crossing back to the mainland, we got lucky and not only saw dolphins but also a whale!

After packing our stuff, we deboarded the Trust and walked to the train.  At the end of the six-hour train ride, the trip came to its end and summer would continue onward leaving us with the memories we made in that magnificent and majestic place.