Families and community members gathered at the Cal Poly Pier Open House Oct. 28 from 9:00 a.m. to noon to learn about marine science student research and interact with their displays. Attendees were given a close-up view of marine life, along with other activities.
Those in attendance could observe different phytoplankton under a microscope, take a virtual reality scuba diving tour with footage from below the pier, and test out scuba diving masks and goggles.
“My favorite part was going underwater,” second grader Jaelynn Ory said. “I saw kelp and crabs and a sea cucumber.”
People of all ages were able to learn new concepts about marine science. As a volunteer docent at Montaña de Oro (MDO), Sara Kelly was able to learn more about the surrounding area.
“For me, I’m learning things that I can tell people when I take them out on the bluffs or to the tide pools at MDO,” Kelly said. “I have three little granddaughters visiting, so it’s just fun to watch the kids, too.”
Along with other games, several interactive exhibits offered people a hands-on experience, such as a table displaying whale skulls and numerous tide pools. Biological sciences senior Kylie Ferree manned one of the touch tanks, where attendees could pick up starfish and other creatures.
“What I’m most passionate about is communicating science, specifically to the next generation,” Ferree said. “A lot of the kids know a lot more than I would ever guess, so to get to see them make connections and relate it back to things they see in the tide pools has been really fun.”
This biannual open house is held at the Cal Poly Pier in the fall and spring and is put on by the university’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences (CCMS). CCMS is involved with several research projects on topics relating to the Morro Bay ecosystem, such as water quality and invasive species in the area.
Third year graduate student in the biology department Maggie Jenkins has been researching the influences of sea otters in invaded communities. Her research team set up a booth at the open house featuring an informative game about invasive species that was geared towards children.
“We have the native candy and the invasive broccoli, and they’re competing for space on the pier piling,” Jenkins said. “They get to see who wins and learn about the effects of invasive species and what inherent advantages they have over native organisms.”
Eight year old Maggie McCollum enjoyed playing this game with her brother while learning new information about marine life.
“I learned that animals can take over other animals’ spaces,” Maggie said.
Several students at the open house have been involved with research projects and classes that have allowed them to utilize the pier and grow from Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy.
“Having the pier here has really provided me with an opportunity to grow as a scientist,” Jenkins said. “Taking the scientific diving class here at the Cal Poly pier really opened up so many opportunities to explore the ocean first-hand and conduct research underwater, which is a pretty unique experience.”
The open house at the pier is the biggest outreach event within the Cal Poly College of Science and Math, with 1,200 people in attendance this year.
“I hope attendees gain a better understanding in what Cal Poly does in marine science, and how our students are doing really important research in our local community,” Pier Technician and diving safety instructor Jason Felton said. “And then I hope they just get a better appreciation for the marine environment.”
Marine science junior Jessica Stewart has been working on research at the pier and was able to show numerous attendees marine creatures under a microscope at the open house.
“I’ve talked to everyone,” Stewart said. “From kids being reminded of the cool creatures in the ocean to adults being fascinated by the fact that climate change might be affecting where organisms are settling and being reminded of the real issues that are going on.”
Pier Facility Operations Manager Tom Moylan works with Cal Poly students who have conducted research and understands the importance of community outreach regarding the impact of their findings.
“I’m always blown away just how people are starving almost for information about the marine environment,” Moylan said. “In order to be able make informed choices, regulators and the public has to have that information. If we can provide that from the research, that’s the best scenario.”