Ecosystems of Baja California

Shweta Saraswat

Marine biology professor Dr. Raymond Wells and a group of his students will be traveling to Baja California Friday to conduct ecological fieldwork in the wetlands of the Punta Banda.

The students of Biology 11C, a course which focuses on the relationship between the climate, plants, animals and humans of any ecosystem, will be observing firsthand the activities of the wetland communities on this trip.

“Wetlands are one of the most important coastal ecosystems,” said Wells. “There are migrating birds, plants and organisms in the mud and in the marsh.”

The two-week class, which Wells calls “academically rigorous,” includes one class meeting followed by the trip, which students must attend to get credit for the course.

“The students are working with CDs and course guides, studying the biology of invertebrates, plants and birds so that when they get to the site they are knowledgeable the minute they step out,” said Wells. “I can’t describe it to them; they walk out and see it and feel it.”

Students must pay the individual cost of $130, which includes insurance and hotel fees.

The group will arrive in Punta Banda on Friday evening.

After rising early Saturday morning, Wells and his students will observe and collect data until the evening.

After half a day’s work on Sunday, the group will return home.

Wells describes the class as “a field course focusing on community ecology.

“What that means is students learn about different organisms that live in the community, the biology of the organisms and how they live together and affect each other’s distributions and abundances.”

Life science department chair Dr. James Rikel said of Wells, “He’s been doing [the trip] ever since he has been here, I think about 20 years,” during which Wells has taken hundreds of students to Mexico to study the ecosystem.

“It is the only way to learn the full depth of the ecosystem when you see animals and plants interacting in the environment,” said Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh, vice president of academic affairs.

Abu-Ghazaleh accompanied Wells on a trip to Mexico in the fall of 2006.

“[Wells] makes looking at the ecosystems extremely interesting because he has seen things through experience,” said Abu-Ghazaleh, who called the professor “a fountain of knowledge.”

Pierce College has a leading program in marine biology. Wells describes how Pierce students are able to conduct actual fieldwork early in their education, whereas “someone who wants to be a marine biologist wouldn’t get to go do fieldwork until their junior or senior year in a university.”

“This trip is just another piece of our program that makes a really well-rounded preparation for someone who wants to be a marine biologist,” said Wells, “and people who are never going to be marine biologists but just want to learn walk out with more information than university graduates. That I know from experience.”