You may think Santa Barbara Cleveland School’s mascot is the Dolphins, but for a couple of days in early May they became the Cleveland Clippers. That’s because each sixth grade class spent a day on Santa Cruz Island clipping the heads off of thousands of non-native oyster plants (Tragopogon porrifolius).

This invasive plant is native to Europe and known for its edible roots that taste like oysters.

However, in the U.S., like most invasive plants, the oyster plant has aggressively spread, smothering out native plants along the way, and has established itself as a roadside weed in nearly every state.

For most students, it was their first trip to the islands and their first boat ride ever. Dolphin, whale, and island fox sightings awed the students, as did the view at our Cavern Point picnic site. Eventually we found our way to the project site beyond the upper campground. There we spread out to locate non-native plants in various stages of bud, flower, and seed. Each student used safety scissors to clip off and carefully bag the heads. Most found the task to be pleasant, aside from dealing with the burrs of Ripgut grass, another invasive plant species, that nestled into their socks. After a couple of hours of hard work, we admired the huge pile of filled black plastic bags. Then, covered with white sap and burrs, we hauled them back to the mouth of Scorpion Canyon. We spent an hour or so to visit the Visitor’s Center and relax at the beach before the arrival of the return boat.

The trips were a culmination of work by CIR board member Cindy Kimmick with sixth graders and their teachers, Sam Adams and Kevin Sullivan. Since Fall, Cindy, with the help of other CIR board members, provided the students with natural science lessons in topics including GPS mapping and the near decimation of the island foxes and made the learning process interesting for the students.

CIR was able to offer the trip free of charge using grants from the Men’s Garden Club of Santa Barbara, the Bentson Foundation, and Susan Shields. The funding covered the cost of the boat and the bus, plus the cost of our staff to organize and lead the trips.

A total of 55 students attended the trips, and five volunteer Work Leaders, in partnership with the Channel Islands National Park Service, also assisted the CIR staff with the trip, including Ron Nichols, Randy Bowin and Dennis Kulzer, plus CIR Board members Cindy Kimmick and Karen Telleen-Lawton.

Cleveland School was chosen because it is an underserved school with enthusiastic and environmentally-aware sixth grade teachers that is also the focus of outreach projects for one board member’s parish, All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

The highlight for many was the knowledge that thousands of bagged seeds will prevent millions of new plants: an invasion literally nipped in the bud. But likely most would name an additional favorite: watching hundreds of dolphins approach the boat and surf our wake. It was an enthralling show seemingly just for the graduating Cleveland Dolphins. 

CIR thanks the Cleveland School, their teachers, Kevin Sullivan and Sam Adams, and their wonderful students for helping with this important restoration project on Santa Cruz Island! —

Karen Telleen-Lawton.