The Times They Are a-Changin’

With the Spring 2016 Volunteer season coming to an end we thought it would be fun to take a look back in time and see how our landscape has been changing. With the help of the Colorado State University students as our current day models, we recreated some historic photos from volunteer seasons many moons ago.

Lets take a look at the Natives Trail. This is the trail that leads from the beach along the East side of camp back to the archery range. It then continues to meet up with the Fern Gully Trail. Currently we are continuing to plant natives along the route as well as continue the trail into the back of our canyon.

This first view is looking towards the beach from the beginning of the trail. You can see that the fennel has recently been removed and the path is being designated with stones. There is no vegetation growing along the trails edges.

Natives Trail Circa 2000

Natives Trail 2016

In this present day recreation you can see that the Bush Sunflowers have grown up past waist height, the Cherry trees have grown quite a bit and there is a large Coyote Brush thriving behind the people.


We are now looking down the trail from the trail head circa 2010.  You can see that some young Bush Sunflowers have been planted along the trail.

Trail Head 2010

Trail-head 2016

Look what six years of plant growth looks like on Catalina Island!

Lets take a look back at the Fennel. If you have ever been a student here you probably have heard us mention that the entire hillside was covered of fennel, well here is the proof.

The Hillside Covered in Fennel

The battle of the Fennel begins:

Looking Down at Boys Camp circa 2000

Looking Down at Boys Camp 2016

Now when we walk up the trail there is not a fennel to be seen. Notice how much the Palm Trees have grown up in the background!

Its amazing to look back and see the incredible transformation this small part of our island has gone through. Thinking of the hundreds of dirt covered hands, tired legs, sunburned noses and smiling faces that made this transformation possible is inspiring. Now days we have to walk 20 minuets into the back of our canyon to find fennel to remove. This spring we planted many native species along the trail. Our most recent planting success has been with elderberries and we hope to have a whole elderberry forest by 2026! Three cheers for conservation, volunteers and our beautiful Mama Earth!

Hip Hip Hooray!

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Mid-Century Modern

Nature provides the best classroom, and we’re always looking for creative ways to build inspiring seating areas in the shade.

A long time ago, in a land far away from the office, while clearing some shrubs in order to construct the bigger and better garden fence, we discovered a Catalina Island Cherry tree and a Toyon tree happily growing in a sunken circle. The form of the existing landscape reminded us of a mid-century modern sunken living room.


We dug the sunken circle out a little more and let the area rest while we dreamed up possibilities for the new space.

Meanwhile, a team of tree trimmers came to Howlands to remove some invasive Eucalyptus trees, leaving us with heaps of free lumber. This gave us an idea! We could use the logs in the Sunken Living room because, hey– if nature recycles everything, why shouldn’t we?

One of the big Eucalyptus trees partially cut down.

An inspirational drawing done by our resident Landscape Architect Claire Grist.

The living room before with Liz giving the log rollers a pep talk!

Claire celebrating a success!

Three hard working ladies Venisha, Liz and Amber enjoying the new space!

A big thanks to our hard working volunteers for flexing those muscles and rolling heavy stumps up hills.


We have many more projects in the works as we finish out our short and sweet volunteer season. The sun is shining, some of the green grass is still hanging on, and there are flowers blooming everywhere. Life is good out on our beautiful island!

Claire Bear signing out.









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Cheers to the 2014 Volunteers

Spring at CELP welcomes a special type of guest to our beautiful cove: university volunteers. They come for an alternative Spring Break experience that involves learning about our unique island ecology and critters as well as performing around 15 hours of community service projects and ecological restoration here at Howlands Landing.

We’d like to thank our 2014 Volunteer Groups for all the energy and sweat they put into our service program this season:

James Madison University

Harvesting soil from the compost trench

Staining the new garden fence

Landscaping new garden spaces


Colorado State University

Creating a new garden trail

Showing some love to the native plants

Unearthing garden artifacts

Des Moines Area Community College 

Transplanting some hearty native flora

Snack time for the masons

Hard at work designing the new garden trail

UC San Diego, CSU San Bernardino and UC Irvine

Transplanting a Laurel Sumac, also known as the “taco tree”

Breaking ground for new garden beds

Building muscles and teamwork moving Eucalyptus logs

The Crew


Weeding the volleyball court


Ready for action! (Notice the bison wallow on the left)


Unstained fence


This lovely new stain will add longevity to the fence


Trail maintenance


The Trans-Howlands Landing Trail continues

Thanks to all of our volunteers for the good times, the positive memories and all the amazing legacies you’ve left behind!

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Deer DeFence

One of the most challenging things about having a garden is resisting the temptation to eat those delicious plants all at once.

Rainbow Chard

Another challenge is keeping animals from doing the same. The garden at Howlands Landing has always struggled to keep our leafy greens safe from voracious island critters.

To help us keep those pesky foragers out, our lovely support staff have recently constructed an impressive new animal-proof fence. The area encircled by the fence is six times larger than that enclosed by the old garden fence. The fence was completed in February, and since then we’ve been busy planting around the perimeter and creating exciting new planting spaces within it.

Wild cucumber vine (native to California) growing on the fence

The fence has enabled us to free many of our fruit trees and vegetable beds from the cages that were once essential to protect them.

(From left to right) Pineapple guava tree, lime tree, and avocado tree

 We are beginning to expand the edible planting areas, experimenting with different locations around the new open space. We also plan on creating a native plant sanctuary throughout the garden, focusing on plants that were once abundant before the introduction of grazers like deer and bison to the island. Once more Catalina will blossom with Malva Rosa, white sage, rock flower, coreopsis, and purple needle grass.

A welcoming gate for garden visitors (unless you’re a deer)

This exciting addition has been a long journey involving the help and collaboration of many parties: CELP students and volunteer groups, CELP staff and support team, and CIC summer staff and directors. We are so grateful to everyone who has contributed to this project and look forward to all the opportunities that it provides.


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Howlands Garden: Growing Sustainably

The beautiful garden and composting space here at Howlands Landing sets our community apart from other camps. It provides a dynamic example of sustainable development and healthy living. Every group that visits the CELP program participates in hands-on garden projects and composts food waste that will be made into soil. The garden’s evolution has been driven by collaborative efforts of staff, students and volunteers. But how was it all started?

Companion planting with Liz

About ten years ago, a few legendary CELP instructors planted the seeds, quite literally, that have grown into the large teaching space we are so proud of today. It started with a modest potted tomato plant and a 5-gallon bucket of compost tucked out of sight. That operation migrated to the current space after the land was cleared of invasive fennel (which was then used as a resource in the new garden.)

Native plants and seasonal produce crops

After years of labor, change and improvement, we currently nurture:

  • Several high-yielding garden beds full of edible veggies, fruits and herbs
  • 8 beautiful fruit trees
  • 3 large composting units each measuring about 4 ft wide by 7 ft long by 3 ft deep
  • Vermaculture (a worm bin!)
  • A nursery made from an up-cycled jewelry case
  • A diverse collection of native plants
  • And even some rare endemic plants that are protected in our gated sanctuary from the hungry deer and bison.

Malva Rosa blooming in the garden, endemic to the Channel Islands

Venisha frees the tangerine tree from its cage

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Water, water everywhere?

Last weekend, something miraculous happened on our dry little island: it rained! Normally, rainfall on the island begets disgruntled sighs as we reach for dusty raincoats and scramble to reconfigure an ecology hike or start worriedly scanning the horizon for lightning. But after such a dry winter, every drop is cause for celebration.

Our CELP curriculum touches on a wide array of environmental issues, but the extremely dry weather of recent months demands a special emphasis on water conservation.

What’s happening?

According to scientists, this three-year long drought is the worst that California has experienced in 500 years.  With record lows in precipitation across the state and a disturbingly low level of snowpack in the Sierras for this time of year, there is plenty of cause for concern and immediate action in our thirsty state. Major water sources such as rivers, reservoirs and aquifers are running alarmingly low. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, and 2014 could potentially be the driest year on record.

Whom does it affect?

California’s large population and huge agricultural industry are both victims and culprits in this crisis. Our cities, ranches, and farms all rely heavily on our fragile water systems. Many communities are living in fear that they will soon be unable to meet their water needs. Farmers can’t water their crops, ranchers are losing animals, and workers are being laid off or furloughed as water becomes ever scarcer.  Increasingly dry ecosystems are threatened with wildfire and loss of wildlife, even species extinctions.

In urban areas, the lack of rainfall – a cleansing process under normal circumstances – has caused air pollution and levels of suspended particulate to reach dangerous levels. Because river levels have become so low, already threatened fish species like Coho salmon are at even greater risk.

The West End of Catalina in February is typically characterized by a bounty of new green growth, and many plants pop up in very different configurations than at any other time of the year, challenging our instructors to identify them. Today the hills of Catalina appear much the way they would in July or October, dry, brown, and dusty, and this winter may well become an even sunnier spring, which is great for snorkeling but very hard on terrestrial wildlife. Our cove at this time of year would normally call Bilbo’s Shire to mind, but today it conjures the parched landscape of Sauron’s Mordor. We can already see the impact this drought is having on many of our native plants

Photo by Nicole Boriski

The full social, economic, health, and ecological costs of this drought are yet unknown. Even with the weekend’s rainfall, we are still well below historical averages for this time of year. For further reading, check out these articles:,0,7724120.story#axzz2sVofsK96

Nothing can live without water; we all rely on and consume this precious resource, so it is up to each of us to be a part of the solution in the dry days to come.

So what can we do?

Water conservation involves everyone: from big industries to communities and schools to people at home. Here is a list of ideas for things the average person can do to save water no matter where you live (try to come up with some of your own!) Hopefully some of these are no-brainers:

  1. Race to see who in your home can take the fastest shower. Can you beat 2 minutes?
  2. Put signs around your home and school reminding family and friends to conserve water. Make them creative and fun!
  3. Turn off the faucet when you’re brushing your teeth, washing your hair, scrubbing your hands…
  4. Why does Macklemore love thrift shops? Probably because it takes nearly 800 gallons of water to produce one new cotton T-shirt. Imagine how much water could be saved by buying trendy used clothing! (1 pair of jeans = 2,900 gallons of water to produce!)
  5. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down!” You don’t have to flush every time.
  6. Instead of letting the water run while doing your dishes, fill a small basin or bowl with hot water and use it to scrub before rinsing with water in another tub or large bowl.
  7. Wash your pets/car/bicycle on a lawn rather than over pavement/drains. The water goes straight to the grass that needs it and is then filtered by the roots and soil.
  8. Better yet, get rid of that grass lawn and plant some native, drought tolerant plants!
  9. If those plants still don’t survive these gnarly times, start a rock garden. (It’s the easiest garden you’ll ever nurture.)
  10. Write to your local/state politicians and tell them that water scarcity is an important issue to you. Follow the news to stay up to date on what’s happening.
  11. Use appliances that are water and energy efficient, like washing machines, dish washers, low-flow toilets and faucets, etc. These save water AND money!
  12. Before you throw used water down the drain—i.e. from pet bowls, dropped ice, rinse water—think about where you could use it instead. Are there any thirsty plants around?

This monster drought seems scary, but small efforts from many individuals have great power in responding to this critical issue. When you utilize cold, refreshing waters of this state, think not only of your own needs, but of all the other people, infrastructure, and wildlife that rely it just like you

For more ideas, check out:





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The times, they are a-changin’


After a successful (and busy) fall CELP season, we are currently gearing up for an even more jam-packed spring 2014 complete with visits from: many returning schools from California and beyond; a few schools that are new to our program; several hard-working university volunteer groups; and a special cameo appearance by CELP’s co-founder and lead biologist, Dr. Richard Murphy.

In addition, our director team is shifting in a fun new direction. Here’s the new lineup:

Headlining as Director of Outdoor Education, now based on the mainland – Travis Langen

New CELP Program Director – Becky Morrow

Assistant Directors

Ben Fitt

David Dentinger

and Nicole Boriski

We are also stoked to welcome six new staff members to our awesome instructor team. After a few rigorous weeks of training, we’ll be amped to explore with students both in and out of the beautiful azure cove, to discover how we as humans can learn from nature’s brilliance.


                   Photo by Will Steinreide, 2013



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Farewell Spring 2013

As our wonderful Spring 2013 season comes to an end it looks to be the beginning of an amazing summer. Time flies when you’re having fun and the 12 weeks of this season definitely flew by. Our volunteer groups included hard workers from:

James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Virginia),

Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colorado),

Iowa Energy and Sustainability Academy (Des Moines, Iowa),

CSU San Bernardino (San Bernardino, CA),

UC San Diego (San Diego, CA),

UC Irvine (Irvine, CA),

Outward Bound Adventures (Los Angeles, CA),

American Conservation Experience (Santa Cruz, CA),

University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS)

Together they removed many invasive plants including bridal creeper and fennel, began rebuilding our garden and compost system, and helped beautify our cove.

We saw a rebound in the populations of Catalina Island foxes and bald eagles recovering from devastating dog distemper and DDT poisoning respectively. Winter rains made for a beautiful display of wild flowers including bush sun flowers, owl clovers, and mariposa lilies along our hiking trails. While strong spring currents gave snorkelers once in a life time opportunities to see organisms such as ribbon fish and pelagic snails usually found hundreds of miles from shore. We even had some visits from the famous Catalina Island bison which are normally confined to the east end of the island.

Most of all our school groups had so much fun snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, star gazing, gardening, and exploring our ecosystems they didn’t even realize they were learning important ecological principals and all the while becoming Ambassadors of the Environment.  If you’re interested in having your students come out and join in on the fun and learning click on the “Trip Planning” tab above and if you want to have your child come out and enjoy these activities and much more this summer click on the blue ‘Summer Camp” tab to the left. Until then farewell spring 2013 and welcome Summer!!!

Spring Staff 2013!!!

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California Sea Lion Mystery

Adult California Sea Lion on Howland’s beach

Sea lions are one of the top predators in the Kelp Forest and its surrounding ecosystems using their front flippers to propel them through the water and their sensitive whiskers known as vibrissae to catch squid, octopi, molluscs, crustaceans and fish. They have adapted to slow their heart rates and stint blood flow to non essential body parts when diving to reach depths of 1,760ft and can remain under water for up to 20min. Under of the Marine Mammal protection act it is no longer legal for humans to hunt sea lions which were once hunted heavily for their furs and blubber leaving only a few natural predators such as sharks and Orca Whales. California Sea Lions are social animals often grouping up on shores or in the water, a group of sea lions in the water is known as a “raft”. The easiest way to tell a sea lion from their relatives the seals is that sea lions have small external ears flaps where as the seals do not.  Sea lions also have a rotating pelvic joint that along with their strong front flippers allow them to walk on land more effectively than seals. Sea lions can often be seen thermo-regulating by laying on their sides in the water with one of their flippers sticking out of the water catching the sun’s rays.  By pushing blood into capillaries near the surface of the exposed flipper it absorbs the heat from the sun heating up the rest of the sea lion as it continues along its path through the circulatory system. Sea lion hunters used to think that this thermo-regulating made their fins look like the handle of an old ceramic or glass jug and so named it “Jug Handling”, to others it looks like the sea lion is waving “hi” to any who pass by.

Sea lions are always a pretty common site around Howland’s Landing whether they’re chasing a school of fish through the cove or swimming by our Kayakers their aquatic acrobatics are always a crowd pleaser.  Over the last few seasons at CELP we have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of sea lions around Catalina Island. Where we used to see rafts of 3-6 sea lions thermo-regulating or swimming along the coast the number of individuals in the rafts has increased into the dozens of late with a couple rafts passing by containing 50-75 sea lions.

This year has seen an unbelievable increase in the amount of sea lions stranded on main land beaches too most of which are small sea lion pups. Where last year Los Angeles County had 36 sea lions reported stranded on its beaches the beginning of this year has already seen over 400 stranded sea lions. Counties up and down the coast of California have seen similar increases in their stranded sea lions. There have been instances in the past involving large numbers of sea lions getting sick from domoic acid poisoning. Domoic acid is a toxin produced by small phytoplankton. Under normal circumstances domoic acid is in such low concentrations that it isn’t harmful to marine life. When there is plenty of sun and an increase in the nutrient levels in the water though whether from natural occurrences or pollution the algae can bloom in exponential numbers, the red coloring of the algae has earned these blooms their name of “red tides”.  As domoic acid climbs the food chain it builds in concentration through a process called biomagnifications. Large amounts of domoic acid in sea lions affects the brain causing them to become lethargic, disoriented, and to have seizures that sometimes result in death. Veterinarians and scientists still aren’t quite sure what is causing the number of stranded sea lions to increase so drastically but with marine mammal rescue centers already filling up there are hoping to find a reason and solution as quick as possible. If you’d like to learn more here are some links to other articles relating to the increase in stranded sea lion.


The Marine Mammal Center takes in malnourished California sea lions to assist Southern California rehabilitation facilities

‘Unusual mortality event’ is declared for the California sea lion,0,7225136.story

Residents help out sea lion stranded on Newport Beach boardwalk,0,3605254.story

Starving Baby Sea Lions Flood Southern California Shores

Starving sea lion pups fill Calif. rescue centers

California Sea Lion pup comes ashore for a rest and some sun.

CA Sea Lion pup resting in the sun at Howland’s Landing tide pools

CA Sea Lion pup scratching an itch while resting in the Howland’s Landing tide pools.


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Spring Flowers

Changes at CELP

The spring season is well on its way and already there are many new and exciting
things taking place here at CELP from the landscape, to back in the garden, and even
to the residents of Howland’s Landing.
The winter rains are still providing the landscape with lush greens and springing
up new native wildflowers. Catalina is home to more than 400 native plants, and
200 non-native plants. Here are a few of the native wildflowers you can see in and
around our cove.

Wild Hyacinth or blue dicks are a member of the Lily family and have speckled their
purple flower all over the island on the dry, rocky slopes and can usually be found
near the costal safe shrubs and cactus clumps.

The bush sunflowers with their small but bright yellow flowers are brightening up
the rocky canyon slopes and sea bluffs.

The Indian paintbrush is painting the dry, rocky slopes of the island red with the
deep reds of their flowers.

In our garden we have been enjoying the remainder of our winter harvest of leafy
green vegetables like arugula, kale, tatsoi, broccoli, and Swiss chard. We have
planted and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our tomatoes, potatoes, cilantro, basil
and garlic.

The garden space is in an exciting transition period and thanks to our volunteer
groups we have been able to make some alterations and expansions in our garden
and compost area of camp. We are in the process of building a new compost system
that will be above the ground instead of the in the ground trench system that we
have now. The volunteers also helped plant around 50 individual native plants
around our cove. The native species included elderberry trees, Catalina cherry trees,
lemonade berry, costal sage brush, aloe Vera, Manzanita, lupine, and malva rosa.

Along with changes in our landscape and garden we have a lot of new faces on staff
at CELP this season. The diversity of people on staff here creates a community that
can emulate the biodiversity of our cove. Biodiversity is good!

Here are some great photos by our staff member Allison.

Bush Sunflower

Indian Paintbrush

Wild Hyacinth



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