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  • 1. Ambassadors of the Environment At the El Capitan Campground In Central California
  • 2. Located 20 miles north of Santa Barbara on the Californian coastline, El Capitan Ranch is perfect place to study and enjoy coastal chapparal and kelp forest ecosystems. With Los Padres National Forest and El Capitan State Beach close by, this place is a wonderful outdoor classroom and laboratory for the Ambassadors of the Environment outdoor education program.
  • 3. This Ambassadors of Environment (AOTE) program is usually offered to school groups for 1-5 day overnight programs. It gives students what they typically cannot find in the classroom: chances to study nature firsthand in a hands-on, high energy, experiential way.
  • 4. AOTE offers a variety of activities to immerse students in the beautiful ecosystems of the California coast, including terrestrial hikes, snorkeling, kayaking, creek walks with water quality monitoring, and native Chumash talks, all of which are interspersed with lessons and games about sustainable living.
  • 5. AOTE students get the opportunity to dive straight into the kelp forest ecosystem thriving right off the coast of El Capitan State Beach. They soon learn that this ecosystem is like a bustling, lively “city under the sea” where each of its inhabitants has a specific job in its community.
  • 6. In AOTE, the “city under the sea” metaphor is used to explain the ecological roles of many different creatures in the kelp forest. Just like human cities where everyone has a specific job, kelp forests have power plants, farmers, recycling and waste managers, doctors, and demolition crews.
  • 7. Kelp is essentially the “construction crew” and “architect” of the kelp forest: it creates the “buildings” –the 3D physical structure—in which countless organisms live and find shelter. Kelp is a type of brown algae and is considered one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Given optimal conditions, cold nutrient rich waters, kelp can grow up to 2 feet in one day and can reach over 100 feet in its lifetime, creating homes for the 800+ species of marine animals that live in the kelp forest.
  • 8. Kelp attaches to the seafloor with a structure called a holdfast. Without this, the kelp might drift to shore and die, so the holdfast is the essential “foundation” of the kelp “building.”
  • 9. Kelp needs sunlight to grow, so it has gas-filled bladders, or floats, that help it float to the ocean’s surface and collect as much sunlight as possible. It therefore creates a vertical structure with a variety of niches, from the surface to the mid-water and ocean floor.
  • 10. Just like there are construction crews in this underwater city, there are also “demolition crews.” Sea urchins munch on the kelp’s holdfasts, sometimes chewing all the way through and freeing the kelp to float away in the ocean currents. The kelp can survive this way, but if it washes onto shore it will die and decompose.
  • 11. Kelp, in addition to providing the “buildings” in the city under the sea, also serves as a “solar power plant.” The kelp blades reach out like leaves on a tree to collect the sun’s energy through a process called photosynthesis. Pigments in the blade collect the energy in photons of light and convert it into sugar, the kelp’s food of choice! When other creatures eat the kelp, this energy is transferred up the food chain, eventually powering the entire kelp forest community.
  • 12. The kelp forest, complete with its buildings and power plants, is home to many “families.” This is a male Garibaldi. He has carefully cultivated a nest of algae on which his mate will lay eggs (top left). The couple fiercely defends its home from intruders.
  • 13. Should a predator such as a sea star encroach on their territory, they immediately remove the threat to defend their homes and their young!
  • 14. There is also “advertising” on the reef, just like we find throughout human cities. This nudibranch’s ad comes in the form of bright colors: they indicate the nudibranch contains nasty, unpalatable toxins and warn predators to steer clear!
  • 15. Kelp forests, like human cities, are even home to “thieves” and “criminals.” The spanish shawl nudibranch (top left) eats hydroids (bottom right), which contain stinging cells. What is really cool is that the nudibranch can prevent the hydroids’ stingers from discharging and actually store Having stolen someone else’s defense, them in its gills (the orange frilly the nudibranch walks around in broad things on the top of the daylight, naked and without a shell, nudibranch). advertising itself with brilliant colors saying, “See my colorful gills? They are full of hydroid stingers and if you eat me you will get a mouthful of pain.” That’s quite an adaptation: using someone else’s defense for yourself and then using warning coloration to make sure everyone knows it. Not only is this efficient but it enables the snail to avoid going to the trouble of making a heavy shell.
  • 16. Swimming through a kelp forest, one might happen upon a “doctor’s office.” These yellow senoritas are the doctors and the gray blacksmiths are their patients. Senoritas eat parasites and dead scales off their patients, keeping them clean and healthy while getting an easy meal. This is called a mutualistic relationship because both parties benefit.
  • 17. Blacksmiths indicate they are ready for their doctor’s appointment by standing on their heads! Just like human doctor’s offices, there is usually a line, and each patient must wait his or her turn.
  • 18. Kelp forests and human cities are very similar. However, unlike in human cities, the inhabitants of coral reefs and rainforests do not pollute, deplete their natural resources, or destroy other ecosystems. Therefore, kelp forests offer lessons that can help us make our own communities more sustainable.
  • 19. The Four Principles By understanding how nature works, we can imitate it and make our own way of life more sustainable on Earth. In the Ambassadors of the Environment program, we learned four simple lessons about how nature works and used them to brainstorm ways to live sustainably. We call them the Four Principals.
  • 20. The Four Principles 1. Everything Runs On Energy. 2. There Is No Waste In Nature. 3. Biodiversity Is Good. 4. Everything Is Connected.
  • 21. 1. Everything Runs The first Principle states that EVERYTHING RUNS ON ENERGY. On Energy Just like our bodies, cars, desktop lamps, computers, televisions, and appliances – every organism in nature needs energy. Some creatures, like kelp and plants on land, get their energy from the sun. They harness the sun’s energy to make their own food in a process called photosynthesis, and therefore we call them “primary producers.” They often provide the base of the food chain in their particular ecosystem, converting solar energy into chemical energy and thus transferring the sun’s energy to the rest of the ecosystem’s inhabitants.
  • 22. Here is a Norris kelp snail grazing on kelp. This snail is an herbivore that uses its rough tongue to scrape off and eat algae, converting the kelp’s energy into snail energy. Notice there is a hole in the snail’s shell. Any idea who made this hole, and why?
  • 23. The hole was made by this fella - an octopus. The octopus feeds on snails and other shellfish. In this food chain, the sun’s energy is converted into kelp energy, then into Norris kelp snail energy and then into octopus energy. But the food chain doesn’t stop here. So who would eat an octopus?
  • 24. A sculpin (left) would consider an octopus a fine dish. So would a kelp bass (bottom). The sun’s energy is transferred from kelp, to Norris kelp snails, to octopuses, and finally to kelp bass and sculpins! And what a great energy source for the kelp city to use! Solar energy is a clean, renewable energy source that never runs out!
  • 25. How do humans presently get most of their power? From oil and coal- power plants. In these power plants, oil or coal is burned to heat water and create steam, which turns turbines that generate electricity. However, burning oil and coal releases harmful greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere, contributing to global climate change. This serious problem could be solved by switching to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy.
  • 26. We explored some of these alternative energy sources in the Ambassadors of the Environment program. Here, we used a solar oven for cooking. It was easy and only required sunlight, a free and renewable source of energy. Cool!
  • 27. The El Capitan campground uses this solar water heater to heat the camp’s pool. This saves the camp a lot of money in gas bills each month, AND it prevents greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere! A win-win situation!
  • 28. 2. There Is No Waste In Nature The second principle says “THERE IS NO WASTE IN NATURE.” In nature, resources such as nutrients are continually reused and recycled, sooner or later being used by a living thing. For example, in kelp forests, creatures such as lobsters specialize on eating detritus, the organic “leftovers” or “dead stuff” on the seafloor. Along with worms and microbes, lobsters ensure that virtually all organic matter is consumed and its energy goes to use.
  • 29. Like lobsters, sea cucumber eat detritus. What’s great about them is what comes out their back end is cleaner than what goes in their mouths! They ingest a mixture of sand and detritus and poop out clean sand, thus keeping the forest nice and clean while getting a meal!
  • 30. Remember the food chain we learned about? This diagram summarizes that food chain. It shows how predators like kelp bass or sculpins might die, fall to the seafloor, and decompose to become detritus that’s eaten by creatures like sea cucumbers and lobsters. The sea cucumbers also die, decomposing into the simple nutrients that will eventually fertilize the growth of new kelp, thus re-entering the nutrient cycle. In the kelp forest, nutrients are used over and over again: There is no waste in nature!!
  • 31. At El Capitan a special guest lecturer from the Chumash Native American nation speaks about how her people lived sustainably along the Central Californian coast for hundreds of years, their lifestyle inherently producing little to no waste! Their lifestyle is a great example of sustainable living!
  • 32. Today, humans tend to waste a lot of resources. One thing we can do to change this situation is compost. Composting is where worms, bugs and microbes convert organic waste into soil, just as we see in nature. By composting food leftovers, we prevent garbage from going to ever-growing landfills, where things take a much longer time to break down and don’t get the chance to return to a natural ecosystem. Instead, waste is converted into useful, fertile soil that can be reused in a garden.
  • 33. This worm poop fertilizer can then be used to grow plants in an organic garden, and in turn we can eat yummy fruits and vegetables! In nature everything is recycled - there is no waste in nature.
  • 34. 3. Biodiversity Is Good Biodiversity refers to the number of different species that live in a certain ecosystem. Biodiversity is like nature’s insurance policy, because when there are a lot of different organisms in an ecosystem, all of the important work needed to keep the community healthy gets done. If one species ails or disappears, many others are around to replace it. The kelp forest is home to an interesting biodiversity of different organisms, and each has specific adaptations to help it thrive in its particular niche. This Wavy Turban snail, for example, grazes algae and other types of organic matter on the bottom of the ocean with a hard shell for protection.
  • 35. The wavy turban snail has adapted a strong shell and a really neat trap door, called an operculum, to protect itself from predators even if it is turned upside down. Pretty clever since its soft body would probably be a yummy meal to many hungry mouths in the kelp forest…
  • 36. …like this hornshark. He would go crazy for a wavy turban snail if he could ever find one without its hard protective shell.
  • 37. Biodiversity is good within a single species. Juvenile garibaldi (top) look different from the adults (bottom) so they are not forced to compete as adults at a young age. This diversity of form keeps the juveniles safer in the kelp forest environment and therefore keeps the species as a whole stronger!
  • 38. Boring clams, found in the rocky intertidal zone on the beach, are the demolition crews of the beach, and they have their own special way to protect themselves. No, they don’t wear hard hats, but they have developed the ability to bore down into solid rock, creating an even safer shelter than a shell. Their foot can secrete chemicals that erode the rock, allowing the clam to rub its own shell slowly down into a hole. And when the clam grows bigger, it will just bore some more into the rock until its shelter fits just right. And by having clams bore holes into rocks, rocks break down more easily, creating more sand, which replenishes beaches that lose sand to erosion. A clam’s life is anything but boring!
  • 39. Mussels are also specially adapted for the intertidal environment. They produce protein adhesive strings called byssal threads that allow them to attach firmly to rocks, pilings and other surfaces. So when the tides come in mussels don’t have to muscle their way against the waves, but rather they can sit back and relax while filter feeding on plankton through their gills.
  • 40. On land, plants adapt to different environments, providing diverse opportunities for different animals and humans to find food or shelter. Diversity increases diversity!
  • 41. Oak trees, like kelp, are one of the many architects in nature that provide animals and even humans with shelter and food. Oak trees have been known to stand as high as 350 feet and live for hundreds of years, providing animals like squirrels with homes in their canopy and with acorns for food. In addition, oaks help humans by creating oxygen via photosynthesis, wood for building things, and tannin as a medical antiseptic. Humans and squirrels, in turn, help the oak survive. Squirrels sometimes forget where they buried their acorns and thus plant new oak trees. Humans’ exhalation releases carbon dioxide, needed by oaks to grow through photosynthesis.
  • 42. Flowers use nectar to attract insects to carry their pollen to other plants, enabling flowers to reproduce and create more flowers for future bees. In a sense, insects are like the postal workers - delivering their pollen packages to fertilize flowers, enabling these plants to successfully reproduce.
  • 43. These California Buckbrush or Ceanothus flowers not only attract insects, they caught the attention of the native Chumash people who once lived off the lands of El Capitan Canyon. The Chumash used the Ceonothus flowers for hair and body shampoo by rubbing the flowers with water to form a lather.
  • 44. These Toyon berries were also used and eaten by the native Chumash people, as well as by many animals. Toyons use their color, just like the nudibranch under water, to call attention to themselves. In this case they want to attract predators instead of repelling them because the predators will eat the fruit and carry away the seeds to make more trees elsewhere. Very clever!
  • 45. Just like underwater, poop is not waste. This coyote scat is full of seeds that have not only been transported by the coyote but also packaged in fertilizer, giving seeds the best chance to sprout. So on land as in the sea, there is no waste in nature and biodiversity provides many species with different jobs to help sustain their communities.
  • 46. As a demonstration of the value of biodiversity, Ambassadors at El Capitan Canyon work together on challenge activities. It is important to have stronger people, lighter people, taller people, and shorter people all working together!
  • 47. 4. Everything Is Connected The fourth Ambassadors of the Environment principle is that EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED. Humans are connected to nature, the ocean is connected to the land, and everyone - human, animal, plant - is connected to the future preservation and health of the environment.
  • 48. Kelp forests in the ocean are connected to the land, creeks, and to other animals. Sometimes kelp is washed onto shore where it decomposes and provides food for many little beach critters AND replenishes the nutrients in the sand and soil of the beach.
  • 49. This amphipod loves to munch on the kelp that washes to shore! Amphipods (or beach hoppers) are great recyclers for the beach – having more than 8000 species around the world, they help beaches around the world stay clean by eating all the decomposing algae.
  • 50. As the beach hoppers munch on the dead kelp, they break the algae down into micronutrients. These micronutrients become available to fertilize the growth of more algae, while the beach hoppers also become part of a new cycle as they get gobbled up by hungry sea gulls. Then when seagulls poop, their digested organic matter becomes fertilizer for plants and trees along the coast, supplying terrestrial ecosystems with valuable nutrients. Isn’t it great that plants and animals on land can get free food and fertilizer from seagull poop? And it is all thanks to kelp!
  • 51. Natural fertilizers are great for the plants and even the ocean. When artificial fertilizers are used, inorganic chemicals leach into the ground and wash into watersheds and flow through our creeks, eventually running down into our oceans. When these chemicals enter our watersheds and oceans, they pollute and can sometimes kill the animals and plants that live in these ecosystems.
  • 52. That’s why organic farms, like the one right above the El Capitan campground, are great! They use natural pesticides and fertilizers rather than harmful, synthetic ones.
  • 53. Sand crabs are very sensitive to the pollution of the oceans. Sand crabs are an indicator species, meaning that their presence or absence indicates the health of the ocean. If you have lots of sand crabs then the ocean is probably healthy.
  • 54. Only 33mm in size, the sand crab is not only an important indicator species but also a food source for both fish and birds and sometimes sea otters.
  • 55. So if there were no sand crabs due to pollution in the oceans, then there might be some hungry fish, birds, and sea otters who would have to start looking somewhere else for food.
  • 56. Like in the ocean, there are indicator species in creeks. The creek in El Capitan Canyon is home to various invertebrate larvae that are very sensitive to pollution and therefore indicate creek health. Based on how many of the indicator species are present, Ambassadors can assess whether the creeks at El Capitan have good or poor water quality. Happily, they are of very good quality!
  • 57. So what would cause the creek and ocean waters to become polluted? Any chemical that is used or dumped from the tops of the mountains or on land will flow into the water system and ultimately end up in the sea. The term for the collecting basin from which all the water comes is called a watershed. So when pesticides, fertilizers, toxic waste, motor oil, etc. are released into the environment, even far from the sea, they are likely to be washed to the sea where marine life and even humans go for food.
  • 58. At El Capitan Ambassadors see how the sun is connected to life and life is connected to oceans, mountains, beaches, creeks, and even the campsite. These connections are vital to the sustainability of our planet!
  • 59. The Ambassadors Of the Environment program includes a game called The Web of Life, and it’s all about connections. Each person chooses a creature and thinks of how it is connected to the one across the circle. Eventually we see that every creature is connected to the others, as is represented by the rope. With all the species healthy and connections strong, the web of life can support people.
  • 60. However, when one creature goes extinct or declines in health, the effects ripple through the entire web of life, weakening the integrity of the web and compromising its ability to support the human race. It is for this reason we need to preserve our environment and keep it healthy!
  • 61. Here is a summary of the Four Principles. As we saw, these four simple rules have many applications. They can show humans how to better imitate nature and live in harmony with it, moving from a lifestyle of destruction and waste to one of sustainability. 1. Everything Runs On Energy. 2. There Is No Waste In Nature. 3. Biodiversity Is Good. 4. Everything Is Connected.
  • 62. In addition to learning these facts about nature, the Ambassadors program is all about appreciating nature. This is easy in such a beautiful place.
  • 63. Before Ambassadors say goodbye to El Capitan Canyon and the AOTE staff, they take time to write down their memories and a personal pledge on a postcard. They pledge to do something as an Ambassador of the Environment for the environment. Their commitments range from starting composting projects and community gardens to writing their political leaders about important issues.
  • 64. When they receive their postcards in the mail, they are reminded of their pledge and that the Ambassadors web site has lots of useful information to help them with our action projects. In fact, this slide show can be downloaded to use in educating others about the Ambassadors of the Environment Program and about sustainable living.
  • 65. After experiencing the Ambassadors of the Environment program at El Capitan Canyon, students are empowered to embark on their own environmental journeys, representing the interests of the global environment wherever they go!