GCC Students Swim with Creatures, Great and Small

El Vaquero Staff Writer

In June Dr. Javier Gago, GCC assistant professor of marine biology, accompanied 21 students to Baja California. The little Mexican fishing village of Bahia de Los Angeles, on the east side of the peninsula, has been the destination of GCC’s Baja California Field Studies Program since 1974.

“Naturewise the area is really unique,” said Gago. “You feel like you are still exploring something new, untouched by tourists.”

The group was headquartered in a small house on the beach, which GCC has leased since 1981. This field station, known as Estacion del Mar Cortes (EMC) serves as a home base, laboratory and meal center. At night, students sleep on canvas cots under the stars on the beach in front of the house.

Students share household chores, but the three meals per day are prepared by a local woman, known only as “Alejandra,” who has become a “mother” to the group over the years.

Most of the day is spent in the water. “We swam with sea lions, we slept outside,” said student Cherylann Grasso. “The nature…, the environment…, was really beautiful. I’ll don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to do this again.” And even on this, his sixth trip, Dr. Gago was still enthusiastic. “He’s like a little kid!” she added.
On one of the days, the students sailed to Ventana Island, a deserted island inhabited only by iguanas. They went night snorkeling and were amazed at the bioluminescence (the ability to glow in the dark) of the plankton and other tiny marine life.

That night they slept on the ground on the island and were invaded by a swarm of decopods – minute 10-legged insects.

“These students go to one of the most unique natural environments on the planet,” explained Gago. “It’s extremely isolated. They swim with whale sharks and sea lions. They spend a lot of time in the water – and with each other. It is not for everyone, you have to love to be out in the field,” added Gago. “This is not Club Med.”

Over the years he has been involved with the program, Gago has noticed the change in the area. “The environment is disappearing. The Gulf of California is so vulnerable to human impact,” he said.

The Baja Field Studies Program is not just for marine biology students. Next year there will be a selection of different classes taking advantage of the facility.

Apart from the marine biology lecture and lab classes, which start on campus on June 16 and spend June 22 to July 5 in Baja, there is a geology class trip over spring break from April 12 to 19, an Independent Studies – Volunteer Service program from June 14 to 20, a Conversational Spanish 111 class trip from July 16 to 28 and a Biology 131 class, a joint program with Modesto College, from Aug. 4 to 21.

Further details on the program are available at the GCC Web site www.glendale.edu/baja, on Page 14 of the current 2002-2003 catalogue or from the program coordinator, Dr. Jose Mercade, (818) 240-1000, ext. 3159.