Students Study Below the Border

maria-kornalian
el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">MARIA KORNALIAN
El Vaquero Staff Writer

This summer, GCC’s Baja California Field Studies program, celebrated 30 years of culture, sun, adventure and learning.

The program’s anniversary celebration took place in June in the small town of Bahia de los Angeles, Baja, where the college has a marine biology field station. The station is at waters’ edge on the Sea of Cortes. It is 500 miles south of Glendale.

Students and faculty live and eat in the station, which also provides classes including geology, marine biology, geography, Spanish, and independent studies.

The field station and the town of Bahia de los Angeles are very simple and basic. There are only 700 residents of the town. The facilities do not include phone service and have limited electricity and enforce strict water conservation. “The field station, Estacion del Mar Cortes, is a unique teaching facility,” said Jose Mercade, director of the Study Abroad Program.

The town the students spend the trip in gets very hot in the summer making sunburn a concern “because you spend a lot of time outdoors and near the water’s edge,” said Kazanjian. “You need to have a spirit of adventure and respect for the environment.”

Javier Gago, assistant professor of biology, has taught the marine biology course at Baja since 1996. “I’ve been pretty lucky,” Gago said. “I’ve had many great groups of students.”

The first week of his three-week course is taught at Glendale, the remaining two in Baja. “It’s a great way to introduce students to Biology,” said Gago.

Gago’s past groups have been fortunate enough to have encountered exotic animals such as a Brydes Whale. Students were able to get within inches of the animal that was two to three times as big as the boat, Gago said. “The coolest experience was probably three years ago when we were lucky enough to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. That’s an experience you don’t forget.”

Phillip Kazanjian was also a participant this summer for the program’s 30-year anniversary. “After my wife, our 9-year-old son, and I attended an orientation, conducted by Baja program Director, Dr. Jose Mercado, we were ready to celebrate the 30th anniversary and participate in the Independent Studies and volunteer service program.”

This summer, students visited a sea turtle research station and cleaned sea turtles that were over 70 pounds. They also sailed in small boats to explore islands that were offshore and dug clams while encountering marine animals such as sea lions and dolphins.

“We were able to increase our knowledge from informative lectures on the cultural and natural history of Baja and experience an adventure we will talk about for years,” said Kazanjian.

Any students interested in attending Baja California in summer on any of the programs offered should see Mercado. Groups sizes can range anywhere from 18 to 21 students, depending on the program.

“It’s one of the most unique places in the environment. There’s no better way to learn,” Gago said.

For further information, contact Mercado at: 818-240-1000, extension 5515.