On a crisp January morning, nearly 100 fifth-graders set out on a journey to remember to Catalina Island’s Marine Institute. Accompanying the students was a group of more than 20 energetic parents ready for all that lie ahead.
The students and chaperones were asked to arrive at the campus of Washington Elementary School for a 5:30 a.m. departure time. Anxious parents cautiously awaited the arrival of the full-size Santa Barbara Air Buses. Amid the organized chaos of luggage, pillows, tears, hugs and great anticipation, the buses departed for the Port of Long Beach, next to the historic Queen Mary.
All students and chaperones had been advised that the channel crossing to Catalina Island could be rocky and to plan accordingly with the aid of motion sickness prevention medicine. Only a few sea sickness casualties took place on the spacious Catalina Classic boat that arrived at camp CIMI less than two hours later.
CIMI has an incredible program that is jam-packed with activity from 7:30 in the morning until 9 each evening. There are multiple laboratories that provide hands-on exposure to the countless creatures that lie beneath the surface of the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The camp is nestled in the picturesque Toyon Bay. The chilly waters of the Pacific in January could be a deterrent to most, but in this case, the students — perhaps more so than most of the chaperones — were eager to take the plunge.
During the several sessions of snorkeling, including a nighttime snorkel, the students went in search of creatures in the frigid waters. CIMI provides luxurious wraps meant to protect from the elements. The process of putting on the brightly colored wetsuits was a seemingly arduous task. After each snorkel and subsequent defrosting period, the camp staff provides hipster music for listening pleasure.
For many of the students, it was their first experience with swimming, let alone swimming in the ocean. The camp instructors are all extremely knowledgeable science buffs, scuba aficionados and patient leaders all wrapped in one. There were sightings of bat rays, pristine Garibaldis, leopard sharks, sea stars, kelp, seals, crabs, horn sharks, lobster and jelly fish. For good luck, the students were invited to kiss sea cucumbers. Remarkably, the majority of the students and chaperones puckered up for the opportunity.
The highlight of the snorkeling experience was the sighting of the oarfish and swell shark, both of which were not only viewed by the most inexperienced swimmers of the entire group but also was a surprise to the experienced camp instructors.
Each evening, chaperones placed countless photos on a blog and Twitter to keep the curious parents in touch with the innumerable experiences their cherubs were having. The accommodations were comfortable, clean and remarkably quiet with that number of students away from home, for perhaps their first overnight camp experience. Dining at CIMI was not the notoriously horrible food that people might expect for camp. The students chose from a variety of delectable offerings for each meal.
CIMI has numerous activities to entertain every type of student. Rock climbing, hiking, snorkeling, basketball, volleyball, and the infamous gaga ball abound entertained all. There was the hope of a sighting of the resident bison and the infamous “ninja pig” that often wander down. Alas, the wild critters remained in the hillsides — perhaps on the next journey to CIMI they will decide to stumble in.
The camp provides extensive instruction on the wonder of the ocean and how each and every student can act to protect the future of the oceans across the globe. It truly was an experience that the students will cherish for their lifetime.
— Kris Jones is a Washington Elementary School parent who chaperoned the CIMI trip.