Marine Camp 2016: Ocean Explorers Sneak Peak

Entering 2nd-5th graders have two camp options: Wetland Explorers (discussed in a blog from 2 weeks ago found HERE) or Ocean Explorers, a camp of similar structure but focusing on a different habitat. Ocean Explorers camp is about “whole world’s ocean” and how we are connected to it. Campers will learn about various habitats such as the highly productive kelp forest, the harsh sandy beach, the ever-changing rocky shore and the dramatic open ocean which is strongly characterized by physical factors. Diverse populations of marine algae and animals are found along the rocky coast as well as in the open ocean. Wind, sunlight, tides and other physical factors create a complex environment, and the animals that are a part of northern California’s coastal community have incredible adaptations for survival.

Ocean Explorer camp, as well as MSI’s other camp options, is geared toward California’s science standards taught during the school year, and is fun and interactive. Hands-on lessons, animal touching, games, crafts, songs and more are themed toward the material to engage campers to embrace the communities along our nearby coastline.

All Ocean Explorer camps have:

  • 2 days at our site to study live animals from our aquarium and to engage in other science projects both indoors and outside
  • 2 field trips (reached by school bus) that feature different habitats
  • 1 day aboard our ship that includes fishing, studying plankton, sampling mud, and learning about nautical navigation
  • 2 staff plus a volunteer for every 15 campers
  • Flexible curriculum that engages multiple learning styles

Campers will be going on two field trips during their week at camp: Bean Hollow State Beach and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center. Bean Hollow (along the coast about 17 miles south of Half Moon Bay) offers ample opportunity for tide pool exploration and other activities. Campers will be able to find hermit crabs, black turban snails, sea anemones, purple shore crabs, sea stars with 5-6 arms, and more! This region also offers a coastal walk where campers can spot common native and non-native coastal plants, and even find a harbor seal haul-out where these marine mammals are commonly seen resting on the rocks.

The second field trip is a visit to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center in San Francisco. Located near Crissy Field, this facility has been transformed from old Coast Guard Buildings and is found along the beach. Campers will explore the region looking for crabs along the shoreline and taking part in crab population surveys. They will also drag a plankton net through the water and compare the coastal plankton to that found in the south Bay at our facility. Campers will also take part in a marine debris project with the Ocean Conservancy; they will contribute to a survey in which they will account for and tally the number of trash items found. The data will be entered into a database and submitted to the Ocean Conservancy, which will be compiled and become a part of a report for the city of San Francisco and contribute to the global project placed by the Ocean Conservancy.

Join us for a week full of fun, lessons, games, and interactive activities that are sure to excite your camper and inspire their love for the life within the California coastline and open ocean. Camps run Monday through Friday, 8:30am-3pm with extended care available until 5:30pm. Camp July 5th-8th still has spots available!


June 13-17 – FULL

June 20-24 – FULL

June 27-July 1 – FULL

July 5-8

July 11-15 – FULL

July 18-22 – FULL

July 25-29 – FULL

August 1-5 – FULL

August 8-12 – FULL



Marine Camp Sneak Peek: Bay versus Ocean Explorers

Marine Science Camp has two options for kids entering 2nd-5th grade in the fall. Both of these camps are geared toward science standards taught during the school year, and are fun and interactive. The SF Bay Explorer and the Ocean Explorer camps are similar in structure, but vary in content. They were designed so that our dedicated marine scientists could attend 2 weeks of camp without much repetition in curriculum.

What they have in common:

  • 2 days at our site to study live animals from our aquarium and to engage in other science projects both indoors and outside
  • 2 field trips (reached by school bus) that feature different habitats and stewardship projects
  • 1 day aboard our ship that includes fishing, studying plankton, sampling mud, and learning about nautical navigation
  • 2 staff plus a volunteer for every 15 campers
  • Flexible curriculum that engages multiple learning styles

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What’s the difference?

The SF Bay Explorer camp: focuses on habitats, animals, and conservation issues local to the San Francisco Bay Area. This camp is about the “science in your own backyard”, so to speak. There are 2 local field trips. One to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in Alviso, and the other is to Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco. During these trips, campers spend time outdoors in various habitats, learning to take data and study the plants and animals specific to the area. Their stewardship project will take place at Heron’s Head, working to restore the wetland area.

The Ocean Explorer camp: focuses on habitats, animals, and conservation issues associated with Coastal California and the world ocean. This camp is about the “whole world’s ocean” and how we are connected to it. There are 2 field trips to the coast. A trip to Half Moon Bay State Beach will focus on beach and dune habitats, and on the endangered birds that call it home. This trip will feature a stewardship project organized by the State Park rangers to restore native plants to the dunes. A second trip to the coast will focus on tide pools and beach habitats.

Weeks of summer camp also vary based upon our instructional staff. Out staff rotate through these themed camps, bringing their own unique areas of expertise to the content. Each of these instructors has a degree in marine science, environment, or related field experience, and will emphasize different aspects of the curriculum. No two weeks of camp are the same, as each group of campers has different interests, and each instructor has a unique teaching style. Both the Bay Explorer and Ocean Explorer camps are equally engaging, and are excellent options for young scientists learning how to explore marine habitats. Taken together, separately, or even taking multiple sessions of the same, these camps will enrich your camper’s summer by keeping their bodies and minds active.


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Stewardship Monday: Saltier than the Sea

BrownleeDuring our Discovery Voyage program out of Redwood City, students study fish, invertebrates, plankton, and also the water that these organisms live in. The study of water, hydrology, is important to understanding the conditions in which certain plants and animals thrive. It can also help us to understand other connections and processes in the watershed and in the water cycle. Last Tuesday during a hydrology lesson aboard our ship, a student-steward asked a great question: “What is the term for water that has evaporated and is saltier than the ocean?”

The affix, hyper­-, when added to the beginning of many words, indicates ‘more’ or ‘excess’. For example, when a person has excess energy, they are called “hyper” or “hyperactive”. The term hypersaline can be applied to waters that are saltier than ocean water (more than 35 ppt). Bodies of water can become hypersaline in a variety of ways.

In the San Francisco Bay Estuary, as in other estuaries, salinity changes throughout the year. There are a few factors that cause these patterns. The brackish, or mixed, water in the Bay come from salty water from the ocean mixing with fresh water from the watershed—most notably in our area, down the Sacramento/San Joaquin Rivers. During seasons and years of high precipitation, more fresh water runs down these rivers, plus more freshwater running down as snow begins to melt, typically during the spring. Conversely, when there is less fresh water flowing to the Bay, the ocean’s tides bring more salt water, which can encroach upstream. Add to this the semi-enclosed shape of the Bay that reduces flow and causes the water to mix, almost “trapping” it in the estuary. During the summer, a time of low precipitation and high temperatures, evaporation causes salinity to increase (water evaporates, leaving the salt behind). In fact, this is the first step in the process of producing salt!

Mono Lake, in California, is a hypersaline lake.

Hypersaline conditions can also be found in lakes. These lakes are usually in basins with limited or no outflow, where the water coming in flows over rock formations with soluble salts. These lakes also typically experience a high amount of evaporation.

Deep Hypersaline Anoxic Basins are more recently discovered habitats of extreme salinity. These hypersaline “lakes” are found deep below the ocean’s surface, and are home to very unique lifeforms.

Life in these hypersaline habitats requires special adaptations. Diversity is typically low in hypersaline habitats, and the plants and animals that do live there are sometimes sensitive to dramatic or fast changes.

How do humans influence the salinity of the Bay? As you may have heard, there is a water shortage in California. Drought is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but human demands on available freshwater influence how much water is available for the environment under any conditions. In California, humans use over 50% of water from the Sacramento/San Joaquin watershed, leaving less than half of the regular amount to flow into the Bay. Less fresh water flowing to the Bay means salt water from the ocean can push farther into the Bay and up toward the Delta. Additionally, changes in climate that cause warmer weather and more sunny days contribute to more evaporation.

What can a steward do? As we have shared on Stewardship Monday, reducing your water use can help the Bay, the Ocean, and the local environment. Also, visit a salt pond! We can see them as we fly over the Bay to SFO—these briny, hypersaline ponds are home to interesting critters. Salt ponds can occur naturally, and have also created and managed by humans beginning with the native Ohlone tribes!

Campers study life in the salt ponds and sloughs at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont.

Campers study life in the salt ponds and sloughs at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont.

Marine Camp Sneak Peek: In the Field

Over the 15 summers of camp, we have enjoyed some fantastic field trips. Every year one of the most fun challenges in planning camp is finding field trip opportunities. Finding just the right place takes a lot of careful consideration…What can we learn? What will we see? How about the logistics and safety?

Each site that is considered for field trip may fulfill some sort of learning objective or topic that fits with the camp’s themes. It also needs to be fun, engaging and safe. When our staff visits a site they look for “Opportunities and Obstacles” that will influence the field trip experience.

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Our Ocean Explorers camp always includes at least one trip to the coast. We search for sites that have accessible examples of different habitats, plants and animals, including tide pools, dunes, bays, sloughs and beaches. We also look for opportunities to do new activities or work with other organizations that can provide different views on learning about the Ocean, science, and other related topics.

Bay Explorers have a chance to connect to the natural resources in their own backyards. Past trips have brought Bay Explorers to the coast, the Aquarium of the Bay, and to local parks. There are many opportunities in the area to discover hidden gems, where campers can explore the wildlife around them, including in places that they can return to with their families.

Naturalists, our returning campers, focus on camp topics in more depth. Whether visiting a familiar site or a new site, they apply more scientific tools and methods to explore. They often visit similar sites to both the Bay and Ocean Explorers.

This year our Summer Camp Scouts joined in the search for the perfect site. They visited new and old sites to discover ways to enjoy the wonderful habitats that we are lucky to be near. There is one scouting event left in March, don’t miss this opportunity to make camp your own!

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