AP Environmental Science class goes to Año Nuevo for annual field trip

March 26, 2023 — by Sanjoli Gupta and Arnav Swamy
Courtesy of Caleb Chou
The class spotted three elephant seals lying on the beach while touring Año Nuevo State Park.
Environmental Science teacher Kristen Thomson took students to view elephant seals on March 6.

AP and regular Environmental Science students made their way to Año Nuevo in school buses on the drizzling morning of March 6. At the state park, the 72 students were split into four groups to tour the park and observe the dozens of elephant seals that make the area their home. 

Teacher Kristen Thomson takes students on this field trip annually as a way for them to see the contents that they learn about firsthand. She said it is always special because every trip involves different sightings, memories and experiences. 

The area they visit is a marine protected area, and this year, the students spotted a huge male elephant seal on their walk to the beach.

“When kids are on the tours, all of a sudden they realize, ‘Oh! I know this term!’ and it helps make concepts they’ve learned feel more relevant,” Thomson said. “I think some of the best learning happens outside of the classroom.”

Students drew connections between the field trip and what they had learned in the classroom, such as the life cycle and behavior of elephant seals. 

“This trip helped me connect with the environment as I learned the history behind the land and the elephant seals that have endured on it,” junior Joshua Sofris said. “[It also] helped me learn about the impact humans have on the environment.” 

By 10:30 a.m., the weather had cleared up to sunny skies as the four groups made their way through the path in the sand dunes to reach the elephant seals. 

While watching the seals and walking to the site, students learned about the Quiroste, the Native American tribe that lived in the state park region before the Spanish arrived. The elephant seals were heavily hunted for their blubber and oil and were believed to be extinct until a remote colony of 50 seals was found. Their survival represents an ongoing but successful conservation effort. 

“The trip gave us some physical evidence of what we need to help protect,” junior Maren Hofman said. “There were primarily mothers and babies at the beach and it really showed how we need to help better the environment so these animals can continue to live.”

Both juniors were excited for the trip and enjoyed interacting with nature. Although Hofman had already been to the area before, she said seeing the seals close up was a special experience. 

“I’ve been interested in marine biology for a while, but seeing the elephant seals definitely made me further want to enter the field to help protect animals like them,” Hofman said.

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