Hidden Treasures, Beautiful Sights, and Larval Fish
Did you know that you probably pass by several hidden "treasure chests" during your daily commute? It’s true! They are part of a sport called geocaching – a free, real-life scavenger hunt where players use GPS technology to find secretly hidden containers (“caches”). There are over 3 million official caches registered on Geocaching.com, and more are placed every day. In fact, there are five new geocaches on UCSC's Coastal Science Campus -- all focused on the wondrous world of little baby fish! This new series is entitled "The Secret Life of Larval Fish: A Geocaching Adventure."
Geocaching gets people outside, exploring places they otherwise would not have known about (that was one of our secondary goals in developing this project). It’s also just plain fun to find hidden objects that few others know about! And well-maintained caches can remain in place for many years – the oldest geocache in California is 17 years old! This increases potential opportunities to engage people of all ages, and may reach a larger cumulative audience than a single outreach event.
The goal of this project is to teach the public about the importance of larval fish and their wide diversity of adaptations for life in the plankton. I developed this series of geocaches in conjunction with the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and was funded by the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society. Ichthyoplankton (eggs and planktonic larvae of fish) are rarely focused on in educational exhibits or outreach programs. This important part of the plankton transports nutrients vertically and horizontally in marine and aquatic ecosystems, provides food to predators, consumes other plankton themselves, and acts to disperse fish species to new areas. Yet larval fish remain generally understudied, mainly due to their fragility and elusiveness, the considerable effort required to sample them, and the near impossibility of tagging/tracking individuals.
The caches in this series are each themed around one aspect of larval fish, with a special focus on California species and ecosystems. Each cache has a unique question associated with it. Information needed to answer the question is inside the caches in the form of images, short paragraphs of text, or drawings. Visitors wishing to participate first pick up a geocaching “passport” from SMDC. They then head out to find the caches using their own smartphone or a GPS unit available for borrowing from the Seymour Center. When visitors find each cache, they review the cache contents, answer the question, and stamp their passport with a fish-themed stamp inside the cache. For completing the series, they can return to the SMDC and receive a commemorative wooden coin.
Think this sounds like fun? Now's your chance to explore the secret life of larval fish. Download the geocaching app today, and start your hunt!