Today we went on a field trip to the marsh in Palo Alto to help the organization Save the Bay with removing invasive species and collecting scientific data from the soil. I learned a lot of really interesting things about some of the species native to the marsh around the bay. The entire area was covered with mustard plants, both dead and alive, which seemed to be rapidly spreading across the marsh. The introduction of mustard disrupted the natural ecosystem of the marsh, because mustard is not a native species to the Bay Area. Mustard was brought over from Europe, and because of this, there is nothing here to keep its growth in check. It therefore takes up a lot of the space and nutrients that could be used by native plants, like pickleweed for example. Pickleweed is unique because it thrives in the salty soil near the water’s edge at high tide. Because of the high salinity of the soil in which it lives, the red tips of the pickleweed plant are very salty to the taste, and are sold in markets at a high value.
Another really cool native species that we saw in the marsh was an albino praying mantis. I learned from John, one of the Save the Bay workers, that praying mantes change colors like a chameleon depending on the color of their environment. The fact that these praying mantes are able to match their skin to their surroundings is a perfect example of one of the characteristics that all living organisms have, the ability to adapt to one’s surroundings. The albino praying mantis matched perfectly with the dried grass and dead mustard plants, and this provided it with camouflage from potential predators. I was lucky to have spotted it! At first it only looked like a leaf blowing in the wind, then I saw that it was actually running through the grass. Seeing the praying mantis was a really cool experience.
This experience was the perfect opportunity to get a feel for some of the volunteering work that I hope to continue over the summer and next year in college. I will take away so much from this trip because it was a great conservation experience, and my friends and I had a ton of fun as well! One of the best memories from this Save the Bay field trip actually happened before the restoration work had even begun. My friend Javiera and I were walking up the path to the site at which we would be working, and we saw a bunch of white animals in the water in the distance. Although I recognized that they were birds, Javiera turned to me and asked, “What are those sheep doing in the marsh?” It was really funny, and I noticed she wasn’t wearing her glasses. Field trips like this are so worthwhile because not only are they educational and eye-opening, but they are a great opportunity for class bonding and for a great time! The only thing that I would have hoped to have done differently was that I wished we had been given more instructions on how to interpret the data that we collected from the soil, because my group was a bit confused at first. But overall I loved this field trip and I would recommend it to a friend in a heartbeat! ♥