The Ocean, Our Teacher

So many of us associate summer with the ocean; most of us try to get to the ocean during the summer for beach days, tide pools, cold swims, picnics, sunsets. Many people feel the pull of the rhythms and tides of the ocean; there is a longing for the sound of the waves washing on the shore and the smell of salt in the air that pulls at us. The wheeling birds, the cedars that line the shore, the heat of the sand or rocks under our feet: all the sensations we experience by the ocean feel special, feel like home. All of us are touched by the ocean, for it is our archaic home and we carry its chemistry within us. (see this wonderful editorial in the New York Times about water: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/science/10angi.html?_r=0)  This summer I followed along with five students, Hope Fowler, Fiona Johnson, Sierra Riley, Jesse Garrett-Larsen, and Lilly Campbell, doing an experimental blended course in Marine Biology taught by Erika Rogers, our Director or Development and erstwhile Science Department Chair, and the ocean, which has always been a part of my life, became my teacher. I did not know that we have spent more time and money exploring space than the ocean, and that so much is left to be discovered and learned about how the ocean works. We all know the ocean is changing in response to climate change, but that the floor is always changing too I had not realized. We looked at plankton ( see the Plankton Chronicles www.planktonchronicles.org for amazing videos) and the cycling of materials in the sea, at the structure of shore communities, and each one of us chose a particular area of study. Mine has been the contamination of the ocean by the Fukushima disaster, and this exploration took me to the labs of the Center for Marine and Environmental Radiation at Woods Hole. (See www.ourradioactiveocean.org) My exploration is continuing, and I know all of the students  will continue to study our giant ancestor and learn from the ocean. The students spent last weekend with Ms. Rogers visiting the Mystic Seaport, where they spent time on a research vessel sampling seawater, visited labs at UConn, explored the history of submarines and visited the Nautilus, explored the shore and played by the ocean. The course has been a powerful learning experience for all of us and has gotten us intellectually involved with a great teacher, the ocean.