Posted by: James Wapotich | October 15, 2012

Trail Quest: Eyes on the Islands

Not everyone is as a fortunate as us to have something as rich and unique as the Channel Islands right off our coast. Not only do the islands offer remarkable sight seeing opportunities but they also offer tremendous learning opportunities as well. And yet for many us the islands remain a world apart, either because of the lack of time or resources to visit the islands.

Channel Island National Park has done a great job of helping to connect people around the world with the natural beauty of the islands through their Channel Islands Live program, which includes live webcams, distance learning opportunities and live interactive dives and hikes.

“Each of the Channel Islands are very different from each other, and are often referred to as the Galapagos of California because of their diversity.” Yvonne Menard, spokeswoman for the park, told the News-Press. “And because of their isolation they have been afforded the development of plant and animal communities that are unique. The Channel Islands has nearly 2,000 different species of plants and animals, 145 are found nowhere else on earth.”

Roughly half of the National Park, as well as half of the 2,000 species, is found offshore, underwater. The Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary extends six nautical miles around all five of the island within the National Park. The sanctuary was established in 1980 and its pristine diving conditions are the result of more than 30 years of protection.

In August of this year Channel Islands National Park in conjunction with Teens4Oceans, a Colorado based non-profit, installed an underwater webcam in the landing cove at Anacapa Island. The is the first webcam ever installed in a kelp forest and gives viewers the opportunity to see this underwater world. Since its installation, viewers have already reported seeing California sea lions, harbor seals, along with a variety of fish including garibaldi, kelp bass and California sheephead.

How the two groups connected was somewhat serendipitous. Trevor Mendelow, Teens4Oceans executive director, along with a group of high school students from Colorado were visiting Santa Cruz Island scouting for buoy locations and a site to for an underwater webcam. Typically Teens4Oceans uses buoys to carry the data stream from their webcam to the mainland.

However during their trip they just happened to stop at the Channel Islands Visitor Center, where they ran into the dive master for the park and starting talking about the project they were working on. That chance conversation led to an impromptu meeting with Ms. Menard and the rest just fell in to place.

The National Parks had already been planning on installing an underwater webcam, they already had the infrastructure in place and Teens4Ocean had the expertise necessary to make the project possible.

Teens4Oceans already had webcams installed off the coast of Florida and the US Virgin Islands and were wanting to place a camera in a kelp forest, and with the opportunity at Anacapa they raised the funds necessary to make the project happen. The Teens4Oceans webcams can viewed from their website.

The inspiration for Teens4Oceans grew out of Mr. Mendelow’s work as a high school teacher working with students in the field and wanting to find a way to make that a more lasting experience. “I started to realize that students wanted more than just education, they wanted a way to get involved and make a difference”, Mr. Mendelow said.

Through the program students can become certified as divers and work on a variety of projects that help build awareness around the oceans and our impact on them. Part of the purpose of Teens4Oceans is to inspire teenagers to become stewards of the ocean.

Earlier in October I had the opportunity to visit Anacapa Island with members from Teens4Ocean and the National Parks Service, as they installed a new robotic cleaning arm on the camera. Also along for the ride were divers from Sacred Hearts High School in Atherton, California.

The underwater camera is housed in a domed shaped piece of glass and the magnetic cleaning arm is essentially a curved windshield wiper that cleans the glass to prevent algae growth on the surface that would impair viewing.

The two-person dive team for the installation was comprised of Mr. Mendelow, and Kent Denver High School student Annalise Downey.

Although Ms. Downey had spent time in the ocean, it wasn’t until she got involved with Teens4Oceans that she got to see what was under the surface. She is now one of their more experienced divers.

A high school senior Ms. Downey is considering a degree in environmental studies and is looking at colleges that are, of course, near the ocean. She also hopes to be able to dive at Anacapa again sometime soon.

When asked what she likes about the ocean, Ms. Downey shared, “The ocean is gorgeous, and it’s so powerful, you go out and feel the currents, and see all these incredible animals, and you can’t help but be amazed.”

The underwater webcam at Anacapa is not the only webcam installed on the Channel Islands. Through its partnership with the Ventura County Office of Education, the National Parks installed a microwave system on Anacapa Island to be able to transmit data to the mainland, in order to provide the reliability and bandwidth required to make their Channel Islands Live content more easily available for schools.

That bandwidth availability also made it possible to support several webcams. The first webcam was originally going to be installed on Anacapa Island overlooking the landing cove, but then something unique happened.

In 2006 the first bald eagle in 50 years hatched on the Channel Islands. In response to the interest generated by the news the National Parks rallied and installed the first webcam on Santa Cruz Island instead, at one of the eagle nests. The webcam generates over 2 million hits annually with viewers from 145 different countries and includes a discussion forum on the website, which allows eagle enthusiasts to connect with the biologists monitoring the restoration project.

When a subadult bald eagle harassing the nest was seen picking one of the chicks up and dropping it in the canyon below where the nest was located, knocking the second chick out of the nest at the same time, viewers were so engaged that within minutes an eagle enthusiast from New York City, while at work, called one of the biologists, he’d met on a previous trip to Santa Cruz and alerted him to the situation.

The biologist quickly went to the nesting site and rescued the chicks, which were then taken to a veterinary on the mainland and later released back out on the island. While the chicks were recovering, second grade viewers at Lemonwood Elementary School in Oxnard made get well cards for the chicks and created their own candle shrine for their quick recovery.

The onshore Anacapa webcam overlooks the landing cove and cycles through views towards arch rock, the lighthouse as well as the seabird rookery, where depending on the time of year one can see brown pelicans, cormorants and western gulls. The camera also shows the landing cove itself and and pans out across the north shore of eastern Anacapa allowing one to also assess the sea conditions.

The webcams came be found on the Channel Islands National Parks website, http://www.nps.gov/chis/planyourvisit/channel-islands-live-nps.htm.

Dive trips to the islands are offered locally and camping on all five of the islands is available through the National Park. Anacapa can also be visited as part of a day trip. The boat ride from Ventura Harbor through Island Packers, is under an hour, and allows plenty of time to hike on the island and take in views of the landing cove, Anacapa Lighthouse, Inspiration Point as well as watch sea lions at Pinniped Point and Cathedral Cove.

This article originally appeared in section A of the October 15th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

To see the feed from the underwater webcam at the landing cove at Anacapa click here. The parks service also has webcams on Santa Cruz Island pointed at the bald eagles nest and one on Anacapa above the landing cove that looks out across the island to the east, http://www.nps.gov/chis/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm

The group that did the install was Teens4Oceans, a Colorado based non-profit that also has webcams installed off the coast of Florida and the US Virgin Islands, their webcam feeds can be seen at, http://teens4oceans.org/index.php/gallery/webcams/


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