FLOW: Educating the Next Generation
By Jill Lemon

Student collecting a phytoplankton sampleStudents collect water samples
from Inner Bolsa Bay. Photo
by Jill Lemon.
Take a breath; deeply inhale and appreciate the oxygen filling your lungs and spreading throughout your body. From a young age we were taught to thank the trees for the life-giving oxygen and their photosynthesis power. When I was a child the environmental battle cry was “Save the rainforest,” and we did book reports on its endangered species and pledged to “speak for the trees” like Dr. Suess’ The Lorax. But recent studies estimate 50 to 75 percent of the oxygen we breathe actually comes from the ocean, and the ocean and its inhabitants are in trouble.

Amigos de Bolsa Chica’s Follow and Learn about the Ocean and Wetland (FLOW) program stands to educate and inspire members of the collective Southern California community with regards to the importance of the marine environment, specifically the phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are the basis for all life in the ocean and essential to environment as a whole. Working just like plants, they capture the energy of the sun and turn carbon dioxide into sugars, releasing oxygen as a byproduct. The stored carbon becomes food and is removed from our atmosphere while the excess oxygen feeds into the atmosphere for us to breathe. Phytoplankton need a healthy ocean with the right temperature, salinity, and nutrients to proliferate and stay in balance. Sometimes the conditions for phytoplankton become too good and large “blooms” occur. However, not all phytoplankton are heroes for humans and aquatic life. Certain species also produce neurotoxins that pose great risk to human health through the ingestion of tainted seafood. By monitoring the phytoplankton at both the tidal inlet and Inner Bolsa Bay, FLOW can assess the health of the ocean as well as inform the California Department of Public Health of potential harmful situations.

We all have personal actions that we engage when seeking change. Maybe you pick up that orphaned piece of trash in the parking lot, or read the latest article on climate change. These actions are noble and collectively will influence the difference in the world you want to see.

Psuedo-nitzschiaA strand of
Psuedo-nitzchia.
Bigger still, you can combine personal actions with others and volunteer with an organization. As the Amigos know, many working together for a common cause allow a shoestring budget to advance greater change. Our Citizen Scientists with FLOW magnify their personal actions by not only volunteering with an organization, but by collecting and processing data that furthers the science and awareness of the health of the ocean and provides information to policy makers regarding human health and safety issues. Every Friday FLOW Citizen Scientists collect water samples from the tidal inlet and Inner Bolsa Bay. The samples are then analyzed under a microscope for harmful algal blooms of phytoplankton, chiefly Psuedo-nitzschia, which poses health risks to humans through the production of the neurotoxin domoic acid.

The volunteers and Citizen Scientists of FLOW also work continually throughout the year to educate students with regards to their scientific efforts and the marine environment. This school year FLOW volunteers welcomed hundreds of students from across Southern California to Bolsa Chica State Beach and Ecological Reserve for science-centered field trips. Each field trip rotates through stations that touch on key points of ocean and wetland ecosystems and scientific protocol in efforts to expose the next generation to the precious resources that need protection.

Students learning microscopyStudents from Daryth Morrisey's Marine
Science class. Photo by Jill Lemon.
Students participating in FLOW learn, through water quality testing, that the amount and variety of phytoplankton observed provides a snapshot of the ocean-wetland ecosystem’s health. During a short tour of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, students learn about the wetland ecosystem and how to collect water samples alongside our Citizen Scientists. On the other side of the Coast Highway at the Bolsa Chica State Beach Visitor Center, students are introduced to chemical analysis of the water samples and how to examine phytoplankton under a microscope. This requires great attention to detail and a critical eye. An critical part of FLOW is helping students understand their role in the health of the ocean.

The Greek root of the word plankton is “drifter.” Plankton is unable to move against the current and has to “go with the flow.” But the direction of flow of global actions towards the health of the ocean is not sustainable and needs a course correction. The members of this organization hope more people Follow and Learn about the Ocean and Wetland and see how the actions of each individual affects the health of the ocean. The marine environment needs champions and an educated next generation to ensure its health and that is the mission of the FLOW volunteers.

FLOW with Junior Rangers this Summer

From June 29 through August 24, FLOW will be meeting at 9:30 a.m. to facilitate the Junior Ranger program with Bolsa Chica State Beach. From 9:30 a.m. until 10:55 a.m. we will conduct collecting a plankton and water sample from the tidal inlet, microscopy, and water quality testing in adherence to our normal data collection. Then from 11:00 to 12:00 we will host the Junior Rangers for either an introduction to microscopy and water quality testing OR Plankton Races. The activities will switch back and forth starting with microscopy and water quality on the 29th of June.

Plankton Races is a fun activity where the Junior Rangers will learn about phytoplankton and zooplankton and their adaptions to survive before constructing a model plankton out of odds and ends craft supplies to race to the bottom of a tub of water. The goal is to sink the slowest to maximize the time in the photic zone. The Rangers will be encouraged to continue to modify their plankton for optimal performance and friendly competition.

FLOW Volunteers who are interested in participating are encouraged to stay after the normal data collection and participate in the activities and learning environment for the Junior Rangers. We will need volunteers to set up the activities, help instruct, and clean up each week.

Please contact Jill at flow@amigosdebolsachica.org and let her know you want to participate.