by Austin Hay, B.S. Environmental Engineering ‘11
Written from the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island

Austin Hay on Catalina Island. Photo by Mareika Vandeveer, Senior, Environmental Studies, USC Dornsife.

Catalina is beautiful. From the gently sloping hills covered in grasses that sway softly in the wind to the earthy smells of the costal landscape, the salty accent of the ocean life, to the majestic views of the island that can only be described as surreal — it is easy to become lost in nature here. And while the beauty that Catalina holds starts on the land, it ends 20 feet below the water in the kelp forests and breathtaking marine habitats.

As part of USC’s dynamic Problems Without Passports Program in USC Dornsife, our dive team has traveled to Catalina’s Wrigley Institute on four separate weekends in the last month in order to train for our upcoming scientific research trip to Guam and Palau. But every step off the Miss Christie and back onto the dock at the institute, a place that already holds so many memories for us, is like travelling back in time. Life is simpler here.

USC students collecting data on seagrass density using quadrants placed along a 100 meter transect tape at specified intervals. Photo by Jim Haw.

When our stomachs aren’t thinking for us, we spend our days focused on diving and educating ourselves in preparation for Guam. We have picked up first-aid and CPR, become certified to use nitrous oxide, and held thoughtful lectures and discussions on current issues in Micronesia. Our average day also consists of the hours we have spent underwater developing both basic and advanced dive techniques in addition to cultivating our research skills through transect data collection. Surprisingly enough, more profound than the scientific skill set we have acquired is the teamwork, friendship and sense of community our group has built in such a short amount of time. Each of us sees not only a dive buddy and USC peer in one another, but we see a friend.

On our first day back to Catalina this May, a small group of us took a hike to the backside of the institute — something that is often keystone to our weekends here. While my words may have helped elucidate the atmosphere of Catalina and our adventures here, a photo of this special place does more justice to the beauty and inspiration that encompasses the island. Even though our trip may take us to Guam and Palau, I think the important thought that has overwhelmed our group is that you don’t have to look far to find places like this that send shivers up your spine and fills your heart with awe.

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