Science and the Sea

I am out on the Westest part of the West Coast, just South of Ucluelet in a place called Bamfield.
Bamfield Marine Science Centre, to be exact. It’s a town of about 300 people year round, and jumps to about 10,000 people during the summer. This is because it is at the end/beginning of the West Coast Trail. The Station, as we call it, has about 120 other people, including profs, students and staff. It sits on the tip of the Bamfield Peninsula looking our over to the Deer Island Group with the Vancouver Island mountains behind them. Across from it is the Canadian Coast Garde (spelled like ‘garde,’ not ‘guard’ even though the French translation says Garde Cotière. Makes no sense to me..) A big boat called Francis Barkley, previously known as Lady Rose, comes in twice a week to drop off and collect mail, passengers and groceries. Researchers at the Station are working on really relevant and cool things, like the endangered and recovering/wavering Northern abalone, and sea otter populations.
I’ve been here for one week and have had to meet on the foreshore at 6am so we boat to various islands in a skiff to see the species in the low intertidal zones. A common saying around here is “the tide waits for no one,” which is definitely true. We’ve also agreed the saying holds true for dinner and for life. I am taking a course called Science and the Sea, which is exactly what I was hoping it would be. And yes, I’m aware it sounds like a Jacques Cousteau special.
You may think this is about to sound unappealing, but it’s like ocean kindergarten for adults. We spend time sketching in our scientiific journals, playing in tidal pools, and taking care of animals that we’ve been designated to – our class pets. I chose to take care of the tunicates (phylum Chordata) sponges (phylum Porifera) and swimming scallops (phylum Molusca). In our classroom we have a Touch Tank, where we are allowed to touch and hold the animals, as long as we do it properly. Visitors to the Station always come by our classroom to touch the animals and I’ve noticed now how proud we are to jump in and show them around and teach them all about the creatures they see. The sea cucumbers are my favourite.

Fun fact: Sea cucumbers are in the phylum Echinodermata, which makes them related to sea stars! This is evident when you see that they have radial symmetry and tube feet.

There are only 7 people in my class. Thank God our dynamic is amazing! I am 1 of 2 girls, of which the other girl and I are becoming good friends. We are an ecclectic bunch and we definitely know how to laugh extremely hard at stupid things. My prof lets us refer to her with her first name and she has her PhD in seaweeds (love her). She even discovered a new red alga and named it after Tim Burton. It’s definitely only a Bamfield thing to be this friendly with a professor. Our TA is just as cool. Originally from Ireland, she works hard to make our class work and is really knowledgeable in the field of animal care. It’s nice to have a good group of people to spend 16 hours a day with and not get tired of one another.
I couldn’t be happier to be examined on memorizing 99 species in the area (latin names included), collecting seaweed species for a herbarium and writing a paper about science and how it opperates. We even got to count and measure sea stars because of the devastating sea star wasting syndrome that has been taking out the poor echinoderms in large numbers. They literally look like the are melting on the rocks and the disease isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
I earned my PCOC license before I arrived so I am able to drive a boat around the area to different islands for research purposes, as I will be doing a final project during the 5th and 6th week. I’ve heard it’s the only educational institution in North America that lets it’s students drive boats. As a result, safety is taken very seriously.
I’ve had some really honest and wonderful discussions about the conflict in Israel with one classmate who happens to be a Jewish Swiss Israeli, and I’ve had some amazing chats with another classmate about faith and Jesus’ life as a human. I hear German around me all the time and I get to practice French with a girl from Québec. I have, what we call ‘barnacle bites’ all up my legs and feet, and my butt is constantly sore from walking up the hill from the ocean to the classroom. I am overcaffeinated most of the time, and I’m constantly dreaming about the fresh 5 cent candies I can buy if I row over to the general store on the west side of the inlet. I have already seen so many neat things, like sea nettle jellies and northern kelp crabs. The types of seaweed here are unreal. This coming week I get to snorkel in a kelp forest, which I’m a bit nervous about – but it’s going to be amazing. Last week I would appropriately entitle as Science and the Sea, since we were out in the intertidal zone every single morning, but this week is looking more like Science and the Lab.
Marine biology isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.

Gooseneck barnacles and pacific blue mussels
Gooseneck barnacles and pacific blue mussels
Aggregating anemones galore, as well as a pile of ochre sea stars

So far, sea life is a good life.

Aggregating sea anemones and sea lettuce
Aggregating sea anemones, giant green anemones and sea lettuce
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