By Sarah Abrenica, Sand Cloud Event & Media Coordinator and Ocean Connectors Advisory Board Member
Kayaking through protected wetlands in the San Diego Bay with the Sand Cloud team made my first experience with Ocean Connectors unforgettable. The guided tour was led by field experts Harry Orgovan and Patrick Levin, who were incredibly friendly and accommodating. As we paddled across the bay, Patrick and Harry kept us entertained with a mix of jokes, wildlife facts, and an astonishing knowledge of the region’s history. We saw an abundance of wildlife, and I was amazed at how much I learned.
I had no idea that the San Diego Bay is home to green sea turtles! The turtles feed on eelgrass, which grows in the bay and channels of wetlands, and provides quintessential habitat for fish and migratory birds. Due to coastal development, San Diego’s wetlands have been reduced to a fraction of what they once were. Areas once teeming with life, have been covered in asphalt – greatly limiting the amount of habitat space for wildlife. The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge provides an oasis for wildlife, which is struggling to survive in an increasingly concrete world. I was astonished when Patrick informed me that the sanctuary we were admiring was actually man-made.
At first I couldn’t believe it; my surroundings appeared completely “natural”. Patrick explained that the wetland was a result of conservation and mitigation efforts stretching back decades. Human activities have decimated wildlife habitats in the region, and in an attempt to reverse some of the damage, the South Bay unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1999. Within a few years, the region witnessed a resurgence of wildlife. Hearing about this environmental success story in my own backyard was extremely inspiring. I came away with a better understanding of how humans can coexist with wildlife, and a newfound respect for the programs offered by Ocean Connectors.
The organization does an amazing job of educating kids and inspiring a love for nature. I witnessed this firsthand when I tagged along on a 6th grade field trip. The class worked up a sweat planting native flora, used binoculars to identify local birds, and analyzed slides under microscopes. You could tell the kids were completely engaged in the lessons and having a blast.
I’m absolutely astounded by the number of projects undertaken by Ocean Connectors, especially when you consider they only have four staff members. What really sets Ocean Connectors apart is that they target low-income communities, because that’s where they can have the greatest impact. The reality is, many kids are growing up in areas that don’t nurture a love for the environment. Ocean Connectors offers invaluable educational opportunities to those who need it most, and the Eco Tours give members of the public a chance to directly support their mission. I consider myself lucky in that I have personally gotten to know each Ocean Connectors team member. Each of them is extremely dedicated to their mission, and they truly go above and beyond to ensure their students learn about the importance of conservation.