A few weeks ago, I led eleven members of Santa Monica High School’s Heal the Bay club through a series of water quality tests at the Santa Monica Pier. As president of the club, I try hard to find new educational projects our members can partake in outside of the standard classroom we meet in every week. With the help of a few Heal the Bay staff members, I decided on an “ecosystems” project. Through presentations, vid-
eos, guest speakers, and weekend field trips, we learn about the diversity of various habitats as well as what we can do to counter the negative human impacts that are endangering the fragile ecosystems.
Our first ecosystem was our very own Santa Monica Bay. On a sunny Saturday morning, eleven club members met on the beach right next to the Santa Monica pier and ran three different water quality tests: zinc, copper, and hardness (mineral content). The copper and zinc tests were successful. They both showed normal levels of each metal, which was surprising considering the site was right next to a parking lot – the main source of the metals entering the natural environment. Additionally, it had rained two days prior to our tests, which would usually produce higher levels of runoff. The hardness was too difficult to survey given the greater abundance of minerals in ocean water as compared to freshwater, which the kit was designed for.
This experience was enlightening in that it taught students how to test for results, introduced them to the frustrating nature of science, and instilled a ne-
wfound curiosity that is hard to teach in a typical classroom setting. After we finished testing, members hypothesized reasons as to why the levels of copper and zinc in the water were much lower than we were expecting. One member argued that maybe the heavy rain diluted the toxic metals that were present while another member suggested that perhaps there weren’t many pollutants to begin with, because of restrictive legislation passed by concerned citizens and policymakers. The tests were fun and engaging, but for the next ecosystem, we are hoping to get different kinds of kits so that we can test a wider range of characteristics.
In our debrief the following week, various club members who went expressed their enthusiasm about the water quality testing. Some members were interested in the science and chemistry behind the tests. Others were more interested in the application of the tests and how the data could be useful in future toxicity reports. The club members who participated left with a new curiosity and perspective on the ocean that they visit so often.