Witnessing the Wonders of the Race Rock Eco-system

Witnessing the Wonders of the Race Rock Eco-system … Only a Click Away!
Magazine article By Simon, Jeremy
Teach , November/December 2000

Just into range of the first camera, a large elephant seal crawls across the rock towards a group of smaller female seals near the top of the middle island at Race Rocks. Unbeknownst to the seal, he’s being watched not only by the student operating the camera but by hundreds of students from across British Columbia, and possibly more people from around the world via the Internet.

“The Racerocks.com Project is a unique project organized and run by Pearson College in Victoria, British Columbia,” said Garry Fletcher, educational director of racerocks.com. “Our project uses the latest technology to full advantage to create a dynamic, educational web experience of an extraordinary marine ecosystem at Race Rocks, Canada’s most southerly point in the Pacific,”

Since 1980, Race Rocks has been an ecological reserve and is internationally recognized as a Marine Protected Area. Located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island and Washington State, the small rocky outcrops of Rock Rocks is home to a diversity of marine and wild life such as seals, otters, sea lions, cormorants, gulls, and sea urchins. To learn about and better understand the ecology of the area, students from Pearson College use the latest technology as part of their studies.

One of ten United World Colleges, Pearson College has over 200 students from around the world enrolled in the two year International Baccalaureate program. As a faculty member of Environmental Systems and Biology, Garry Fletcher and his students are responsible for creating and maintaining the content of the web site.

The project is supported by various partners including The LGS Group, an IT consulting firm that provides project management and web design services. Another project partner is Telus, a leading telecommunications company, which has contributed the equipment, bandwidth and expertise to assure high-speed delivery of the web content. Several alumni of the college have assisted with the networking and Database work, and the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, has committed expertise and significant funding to the project. B.C. Parks and the Millennium Partnership Fund are also key partners.

Apple’s affiliation to the racerocks.com project has been in providing some equipment and mostly technical support. The project uses Apple technology extensively and runs an Apple PowerMac G4 500 mgHz with Mac OS X Server as one of its web servers. Apple Canada has recently become a partner in the program providing a G3 Powerbook 500 mghz for the wireless webcasts from the intertidal and subtidal areas. A host of PC and Apple PowerMac computers are also used for capture of live video feeds being broadcast from the islands. Currently a series of environmental sensors are being installed, above and below water. Data from these will soon be accessible through an Oracle database. Video and Audio streaming is broadcast 24 hours daily using QuickTime Streaming Server software and generated by Sorenson Broadcaster software running on Macintosh Imacs.

Operated by students, as many as seven digital cameras and various data sensors, both above and under water, record what is occurring at Race Rocks and then broadcast the feeds during live video and audio events scheduled over a number of days.

Recently, the project has begun to use Apple’s wireless Airport technology, which enables students to roam the island with an Apple PowerBook G3 linked to the underwater or on shore cameras. The signal is linked to the project’s Local Area Network on the island, which is connected to the College by a compressed, microwave radio link, being transmitted on top of the Race Rocks lighthouse tower. At the College, the signal is decompressed and sent out over the internet.

“A key goal of the project is to encourage teachers to create internet-based curriculum, which will enable their students to have a fully engaging experience learning about the unique ecology of Race Rocks,” said Fletcher. ” As an example, we just recently supported a number of schools across B.C. to connect to our web site during one of our many scheduled live video streaming events. A team of students helped in providing two weeks of programming from above and below the water to schools via the internet. We hope to encourage other schools to take on similar projects and “Adopt a Sensitive Ecosystem” so that they can also share ecological information. These schools’ students were able to talk directly to our College’s underwater student divers and ask questions about what they were seeing being broadcast live via the web site.”

As the racerocks.com project continues to broaden its use of its technology, more creative and innovative programs will be planned to help the College’s students study the diversity of the Race Rock outcrops and share their findings with other students in Canada and around the world.

To check out how the large elephant seal is doing and learn more about Race Rocks, you can visit the web site at www.racerocks.com.