Training: Now Begins the Reign of the Monarch

Photo: Mt. Diablo campsite mountainside at sunset featuring a fiddleneck species

Hello everyone! My name is Clarissa Ortega, a Field Technician and Monarch Research/Education inter, part of the 2023 Environment for the Americas (EFTA)/ Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) cohort. I graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara  (UCSB) where I received my B.S. in Environmental Studies. Immediately after graduation, I began working at a hospital in Los Angeles as a patient transporter. Although my career took a bit of a roundabout after graduation, I’m delighted to be here now and share my experiences so far! 

Photo: Carina Ruiz (EFTA) and Clarissa Ortega at Mt. Diablo, by Sarah Gomes (MJV)
Photo: Clarissa Ortega at Mt. Diablo lookout, by Sarah Gomes
Photo: Timer photo (Left to right) Misty Boos (MJV), Carina Ruiz, Sarah Gomes, Clarissa Ortega, Sierra Teemsma (MJV), Laura Lukens (MJV), and Aimee Olsen (MJV)
California State Park: Mount Diablo

My adventure begins back in mid April of 2023, with the first in-person training with the team was at Mt. Diablo State Park in the California Bay Area. Here I got some great hands-on practice with some of the monitoring protocols we have in place for biodiversity, monarch, and milkweed counts. Some of the protocols we were trained for are called the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program (IMMP) and the Monarch Larvae Monitoring Program (MLMP). 

Once we got the chance to apply all the knowledge from the at-home training, the week before, I was able to make the connection of the importance of the work we put in to understand the migration of the monarch. Much of the work that community scientists perform, feels like it often goes unnoticed but it is truly satisfying to see how significant the work is, at large. After all this training, I understood how much of what we know about monarchs and their magnificent migration is due to individual observations. 

Camping at Mount Diablo was an adventure in and of itself. Especially since we were on the lookout for milkweed to incorporate into our training, like a botanic scavenger hunt. Then, finally,  Laura Lukens (MJV) was able to spot some California milkweed     (Asclepias californica) on a hillside by the road with her expert eyes!

Photo: Clarissa Ortega with CA milkweed, by Sarah Gomes
Photo: California milkweed (Asclepias californica), by Clarissa Ortega
Photo: Aimee Olsen and Clarissa practicing IMMP by Sarah Gomes
The Gardens at Lake Merritt

After camping for a few days at Mt. Diablo, we did some work in Oakland at the Lake Merritt Botanic Gardens, where Pollinator Posse hosted us and shared all kinds of knowledge about native pollinators and gardens. Although the whole week was fascinating, the trip to Lake Merritt was truly magical, especially thanks to Tora Rocha, a co-founder of Pollinator Posse. Tora shared some bee cocoons with us, which we helped hatch by holding out to the sunlight and got to witness first-hand some of our native bees hatching! This was a significant memory for me, as it was the first time I had heard of bees coming from cocoons. It served as a reminder of all the knowledge I have yet to explore and to just stay curious, in all aspects of life. Finally, we took a ferry to San Francisco and just got to enjoy our last day of training with one another. 

Overall, this trip was a huge learning moment. Where for the first time in a long time after graduating from college I got to be excited again about my career field, and feel that spark in my aspiration to continue learning all I can about our environment. I loved the opportunity for team building the way we did, as it eased the transition to a new position by allowing me to feel a part of a team that works exceptionally at putting our heads together for a common goal, the monarch. Even though I have been part of the team for a short time, I already feel fulfilled in many ways. And although my career took a bit of a detour, this internship opportunity with EFTA/MJV has shown me that what is meant for you will always fly back to you. 

Until next time!

Photo: Native CA bee species eating through cocoon, by Clarissa Ortega
Photo: Bee habitat "Air Bee N Bee" at Lake Merritt, by Clarissa Ortega
Photo: (Left to right) Misty Boos, Sierra Teemsma, Laura Lukens,Erin Arnsteen, Carina Ruiz, Clarissa Ortega, Aimee Olsen and Sarah Gomes at Lake Merritt
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