Students to visit Galapagos Islands, research unique species

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Written by Hector M. Zermeno 


Charles Darwin first explored this archipelago in the Pacific Ocean during the 19th century and discovered a multitude of native species including the tortoise, finch and iguana. Now, almost 200 years later, a group of Riverside City College students are preparing to take what could be the trip of a lifetime.

The RCC Department of Life Science will be taking its biennial trip to the Galapagos Islands during the summer of 2016. The trip is scheduled from Jun. 30 to Jul. 11.

This excursion is part of an ecology course offered at RCC that is coordinated with the help of Ecology Project International.

Participating students say they are excited about this opportunity.
“From a very early age I was really interested in nature and biology,” said Matthew Johnson, one of the students planning to take this course. “I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos and this was the opportunity to do it.”

Johnson learned about the trip during his biology class earlier this semester and it sparked his interest.

Another student joining the trip is an experienced traveler and hopes to add the Galapagos to her growing list of places she has visited.
“The last few years I’ve been traveling, so I just thought, ‘hey, that would be an amazing experience.’” said Alysa Carrillo, a student who also helps manage the community garden. “This is probably the only time I’ll ever be able to do that.”

Students are not the only ones who are looking forward to this trip. The instructors who previously visited the islands are excited to return.

“What I liked most about this trip was the opportunity to see organisms that you can’t see any place else in the world,” said Tonya Huff, RCC biology instructor, who is accompanying the students on the trip. “Since we went with a school group, we actually helped participate in research and collect data.”

The students will get to conduct research about the animals and the ecosystem of the islands. “Something the typical tourist does not get to do,” Huff said.

RCC biology instructor Virginia White, who will also be going on the trip, was somewhat hesitant about it the first time Huff mentioned it to her.
“I said ‘no’,” White said. “I was pretty sure it was going to involve camping and I don’t like camping.”
She later admitted the trip was a fantastic experience, camping and all.
“I’ve been hearing about the islands for so long,” White said. “It was everything I had imagined it to be plus so much more.”
“Probably for me the most amazing moment was seeing the blue-footed boobies for the first time because I’d heard so much about them,” White said. “That blue is so vibrant.”

The group will also be accompanied by two Ecology Project International instructors and a guide from the national park service in Ecuador.

During their last trip in the summer of 2014 the class also got to interact with the giant tortoises.
“We got to touch them, measure them, weigh them, flip them over and take various measurements,” Huff said.
The data collected from the research is used by the Charles Darwin Research Station and the national park service for conservation efforts.
“It’s kind of satisfying to know that you’re helping with those efforts,” Huff said.

During the upcoming trip, the group will get to see the newly discovered species of giant tortoises that reside in Santa Cruz Island, the Chelonoidis donfaustoi, named after Fausto Sanchez.
Sanchez works at the Charles Darwin Research Station raising baby tortoises that will be released into the wild.
The group of students from the last trip met Sanchez when they toured the station. He showed them how the eggs are incubated and how the baby tortoises are taken care of.

Students can expect plenty of outdoor activities and exposure to the elements while exploring the islands.

“When we were in the highlands, I mean, we were just wet the entire time,” Huff said. “Which actually turned out to be quite fun.”
“You just have to deal with being wet and muddy, but once you accepted that fact it wasn’t so bad,” she added.
While on the highlands, the students will be camping in tents.

Accommodations, like indoor plumbing, are available for this part of the trip.
“That’s camping even I can do,” White said.
Carrillo said a student suggested hiking as a way to prepare for the trip
“I would love to say I hike a lot, but I don’t,” she said. “I think that all of us working together, we can do it.”

The trip will also provide an escape from reality for the students. There are no personal electronic devices like computers or cell phones allowed.
“It was really terrifying for everybody on the first trip, myself included,” White said. “My safety net of my phone was gone.”
“It became so relaxing after about 24 hours,” White said. “I didn’t even care where my phone was.”
The “no personal electronics” rule is not something Carrillo is worried about.
“I can do it,” Carillo said. “I think after the first day or two everybody will adapt pretty easy.”

The students will also get the opportunity to interact with locals of Puerto Ayora, a town located on Santa Cruz Island and to visit four additional islands.
A sample itinerary detailing the daily activities of the trip can be found at the Ecology Project International website.
There are a total of 16 student spots available. As of the first week of November,13 of those spots had already been filled.

The cost of the trip is just under $6,000. The price includes all transportation, accommodations and all meals for the duration of the trip.
There is a deposit of $250 due by Dec. 1 to secure a spot on the trip.

More details on how to apply for the excursion can be found on the Department of Life Science web page on the RCC website.

The students will be organizing multiple fundraisers before the trip to help cover some of the expenses. Some of the fundraisers will be held with the help of some local restaurants. The restaurants will donate a percentage of sales made in connection to the fundraisers.

The students and faculty advisers will also hold a Ripple Complete Clutter Clearout Fundraiser. Reusable donated items will be accepted and will be sold by the pound.

Fundraisers dates will be announced as the date for each approaches.

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