Wallops Island 2011: Colder, Wetter ... Just as Muddy

by Ashley Yuen '13

As the Blair Magnet class of 2013 dives into the mud pit at the saltwater marsh in Wallops Island, Virginia, the only thought running through their minds is “Cold, cold, COLD!!” Magnet teachers Mr. Kaluta and Mr. Templin snicker as they snap photos of students huddling into a group hug in attempt to warm themselves. This scene sums up the weather of the 2011 Wallops Island trip: cold, windy, and even rainy.

It may have been cold, but it was better than the horrible mosquito infestations that the upperclassmen suffered from. Upperclassmen had all said one thing in common in their Wallops stories: “It was really fun, except for the mosquitoes!” Unlike recent Wallops trips, the 2011 trip took place from April 6 to April 9, about one to two weeks earlier than previous years. Unfortunately, this year’s sophomores had to trade warm, sunny weather for the price of no mosquitoes. That was not the only new benefit that this year’s sophomores were able to take advantage of – they were also the first class to use all of the newly renovated facilities at the Marine Science Consortium: brand new dormitories and a new lecture building. Senior Andrew Das Sarma commented on a photo of the new buildings in envy and outrage: “I DO NOT RECOGNIZE THIS WALLOPS ISLAND!”, while sophomore Henok Addis joked that, “The old [lecture] building looked like a seafood shop!”On day one, students piled their luggage and bedding in Magnet Physics teacher Mr. Schafer’s classroom. Because students were asked to place their bedding in trash bags, passing Blazers were amused to see that the room looked like a dumpster. Magnet sophomores were jumping with excitement by the time they loaded the bus, after having sat through half a day of school. At arrival, sophomores settled into the new dorms, ate their first Wallops meal in the cafeteria, and met their instructors at their first lecture. Each group would attend different ecosystems each day and take down measurements and observations, which would be analyzed and written into their field books for a grade in Magnet Biology.

When the clock hit 8 pm, sophomores spilled out of the lecture building and immediately began to play on the field. Despite the cold weather, everyone still enthusiastically started games of Capture-the-Flag, soccer, volleyball, and Manhunt. Analysis 1A teacher Mr. Rose was especially excited and happily joined in the fun, playing sports with his students. Sophomore Albert Tang even brought his guitar to Wallops while students sat around in a circle, humming and singing along to the music.The next morning, early risers went on the bird watch with Mr. Schafer and his wife Katie. Unfortunately, since it was still cold outside, there weren’t many birds to see. However, students were still able to witness gorgeous scenery and watch the sun rise at the beach. When they returned from the bird watch, the rest of the sophomores had just woken up and the two groups reunited for breakfast. Over the next three days at Wallops Island, the class of 2013 split into groups and visited five ecosystems to engage in hands-on learning activities.At the intertidal zone, students visited a sub-littoral tidal zone and dug for organisms (literally) in freezing cold water. There were a few troopers: Mr. Templin was the only teacher in one group to enter the water, but in only shorts. Despite the cold, he still cheerfully exclaimed, “You see, I’m cooler than all the other teachers. I’m the only one who’s in here!” Legs were bright red by the time everyone stepped out of the water. Some students even encountered rain during the Intertidal Zone and only a few students ended up going in the water.The saltwater marsh is by far the most “picturesque” part of Wallops Island: a bunch of teenagers, neck-deep in giant pools of mud. “Make sure you test each step before you do anything; there are lots of holes!” sophomore Pallavi Thapa advised other students whom were soon doomed to the marsh. The foul smell of the marsh was no surprise: Mark, an instructor at the Consortium, explained, “You’ll notice it stinks at the marsh. That’s because of the Purple Sulfur Bacteria.” The first groups to go to the marsh lucked out because the next day, it rained hard. Sophomores shivered in their T-shirts and struggled to listen to their instructor. “The marsh filters out the toxins…it’s good for the economy…habitat to a lot of organisms here…” Mark continued on while teeth chattered.

“Ahhh,” students breathed in as they cruised across the Tidal Creek aboard the RV Mollusk. The relaxing boat ride was put to a halt when the wind picked up and it was time to work. Students split into groups and attended different stations on the boat: measuring the current speed of the waves using the current cross, estimating the transparency of the water using the secchi disk, approximating the color of the water using the Forel Ule, and using triangulation and a bearing compass to determine the boat’s location on a map. The most complicated station was the water collection station- the Van Dorn bottle retrieved water beneath the surface and students recorded information about the water. Using a net called an otter trawl, groups caught a great variety of organisms: turtles, blue crabs, sea gooseberries, hairy sea cucumbers, and even a baby seahorse!At the beach, students observed different stages of sand dunes, but for a majority of the time they scouted the beach for all sorts of sea shells. Beautiful shells lined the shoreline and among the most prized finds were “sand dollars” – sophomores hunted the beach down looking for these gems, but were disappointed to discover that Five-Holed Keyhole Urchins had been mistaken for sand dollars. By the time everyone loaded the bus, each student had a bag full of wonderful sea shells. On the last day of Wallops, the entire Blair Magnet class of 2013 visited the last ecosystem: the Maritime Forest. There, instructors led groups of sophomores through the forest and handed out certificates that congratulated each student for participating in the Marine Science Consortium. By the time sophomores ate their last meal at Wallops Island, they were reluctant to leave and go back home. “It’s back to reality…so much homework to make up,” sophomore Lisha Ruan groaned as she packed her bags. Every Magnet sophomore was on the same page with her. After the trip, sophomores coined the phrase “Post Wallops Depression”. Some say the best part of the trip was not the ecosystems, but the night the teachers treated all the students to free mini golf and go-karting.Incoming Magnet sophomores have a lot to look forward to in their Wallops trip. The class of 2013 as incoming juniors, on the other hand, can only look forward to their SRPs, APs, SATs, college apps, and plenty of Magnet electives. It’s going to be a long year.