Climb Aboard our Marine Science & Sailing Classroom, with Seabury!

Imagine way back when you were in high school, attending the same classes every day in the same rooms, eager for even the slightest little thing to shake up your day… *yawn* Now imagine that you were given the opportunity to take all your hard-earned knowledge outside of the classroom and use it to explore the beautiful island world around you!! (ok, so the island part is a little niche…) Well this is exactly what the students at Seabury Hall are so lucky to experience each year, as a part of their annual Winterim.  One week of the year, these bright-eyed students get the chance to leave their “traditional” classroom desks and put down their pen and papers in exchange for a new way to learn, choosing from a list of about 15 different discipline-specific experiences offered by local Maui businesses.


For three years now, Trilogy Excursions has been so humbled to be able to offer one of these experiences in the form of our “mobile” Marine Science and Sailing classroom. During this year’s event, students spent four days with our Conservation and Education Director, Magen Schifiliti, and one of our stellar Trilogy team members, Jennie Spillane, getting the most out of a truly unique hands-on outreach educational excursion program.  Journey with us below for an inside scoop on the students’ 4-day adventure, as they climbed aboard for the official 2019 Trilogy Winterim!


To kick off their 4 days of sun, fun, and education, this year’s group of 15 students jumped onto one of our Trilogy catamarans and set sail for Lana'i, one of our friendly island neighbors to the West. On the hour and a half journey across the ‘Au ‘Au channel, the group was continuously (and happily!) forced to cut all engines, due to many close encounters with our magestic Maui humpback whales, each time the students oo-ing and ahh-ing until the visitors eventually swam away to delight another sea-goer.


Upon the eventual arrival to Lana’i the first lesson of the day centered on sunscreen awareness. In January of 2019, Maui County issued an official ban on the reef-harming ingredient Oxybenzone, which we now know is massively disruptive to the development of the world’s coral, making them more susceptible to bleaching. Students listened intently as Magen detailed the dangers of Oxybenzone’s rising effects on Hawaii’s coral, and noted other reef-damaging ingredients to be on the lookout for in popular sunscreen brands.

Magen’s pro tip:

Your best bet in choosing the safest sunscreen that will protect both you AND mother nature is to look for brands that are all-natural & organically based.  As a pretty steadfast rule - chemical and spray on sunscreens are a definite pass.


Next up on the day’s agenda: fish identification!  Before jumping into the clear blue waters of Hulopo’e Bay Marine Preserve found on Lana'i island, the students learned about some of the most common fish species that they would meet through their snorkel masks. A neat little fact about our island chain - more than 20% of marine fish species are natively endemic to Hawaii, meaning that they are found nowhere else in the world! A couple of these endemic fishy friends are shown below – both very common to Maui’s inviting waters.

LEFT: Hawaiian Sergeant (photo cred: David Marchand)

RIGHT: Millet Butterflyfish (photo cred: Luiz Rocha)

During the snorkel session, Magen and Jennie also tasked the students with conducting a citizen science survey focused on the health of the coral reef. During the survey, they took note of the percentage of alive coral versus dead coral and documented the many different coral species that they encountered, working together to gather all of their data to then send off to the non-profit organization, Eyes of the Reef. This fabulous community-reporting network relies on information provided by local residents and ocean-goers, allowing the organization to better observe and protect our oceans against coral bleaching, disease, and even invasive species!

After drying off in that sweet island sunshine, our Seabury students had one final activity for the day, prepared by the Trilogy team.  In the form of a not-so-traditional invertebrate bingo game, students took advantage of low tide to stroll along the rocky footpaths at the far end of the beach, keeping their eyes peeled to the tide pools there.  Marking each bingo square down as they went, the hunt found great success, recording eels, crabs, a variety of fish, and even a nudibranch!



Day two of the 2019 Winterim started with high hopes but quickly evolved into a slight deviation from the original plan. Originally tasked with conducting a snorkel-fueled reef fish survey, the large amounts of rain and runoff from this very wet & stormy winter season proved the water quality to be unsafe. Resorting to plan B, Magen & Jennie conducted an impromptu microplastic lesson, followed by a nearby beach cleanup.


Microplastic is any piece of plastic that is smaller than 5mm in size, just around the size of your pinky nail. Surprisingly (and tragically), it is a fact that ALL plastics do not break down, but instead break into tinier pieces as they photodegrade in the sunlight, becoming smaller and smaller until they are eventually microscopic. Now this is where the big issues start to begin… Marine species far down on the food chain swim along in the ocean, going about their fishy ways, and encounter these microplastics, many times ingesting them mistakenly as plankton, which is one of their most common food sources.  So now, in the obvious progression of nature, these microplastics (which are not expelled, but rather settle in the small fishes’ bellies) bio-accumulate UP the food chain, where they finish their journey inside of nature’s top predators – and yup, you guessed it – this also includes humans! The Global Plastic Estimate that was last configured in 2014 by 5 Gyres determined that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean.


Scientists are also now finding more and more marine species with plastics inside their actual bodies; from whales to fish to human beings, the presence of microplastics continues to build, with little to no knowledge of how (or at what point) this foreign substance will become harmful to its hosts. More research needs to be done on how plastic chemicals are affecting human health, but what we can say for now is that initial studies have shown a wide range of immediate effects, including hormone imbalances, endocrine disruptors, thyroid problems, and lowered sperm count in males.



After the beach cleanup, the group reconvened at the Trilogy Home Office to participate in the day’s final surprise for these happy students - a class on lau hala weaving! In ancient Hawaii, the leaves (lau) of the hala trees were woven (ulana) together and used as various functional items such as baskets, sails, hats, and floor mats, to name a few. Lau hala are known for being long, flexible, extremely durable, and even water resistant, which also made them perfect for creating large sails for the ancient canoes that transported countless Polynesians across the great Pacific.

Especially as many of our kūpuna (elders) and kumu lauhala (weaving teachers) have passed away recently, we find this time essential in encouraging new weavers to learn the art of ulana lauhala.
— club member Valdeane Odachi

Despite being so integral to our island ancestor’s way of life, the art of ulana lau hala was almost lost over the years, as Hawaiians preferred to orally pass along many of their traditions, knowledge, and unique skills. Luckily however, we are recently beginning to see a resurgence of these ancient skills and knowledge across all of the Hawaiian Island chain, with many communities even forming groups or clubs to ensure that the art of the ancients continues to be passed on to younger generations.


With the weather looking up (hooray!), the Seabury group met day 3 with excitement, as they boarded a Trilogy catamaran for a comprehensive lesson in sailing! Mother Nature was kind that day, with a strong wind out of Ma’alaea Harbor, allowing the students to get the boat moving – and fast! Our biodiesel Trilogy V hit 10 knots as the students took turns tacking the boat back and forth across the harbor. After a successful sail, the students and the Trilogy crew were stoked at the day’s next educational stop: an inspiring lesson in wayfinding, delivered from one of our favorite friends, Uncle Sol Kaho’ohalahala.



It is well known that Ancient Hawaiians and Polynesian voyagers used wayfinding as a way to navigate across thousands of miles of open ocean, with a genuinely expert understanding of the “star compass”.  Rather than the physical nature of a Western compass, the star compass is one of a mental construct, with the visual horizon being divided into 32 “houses”.  In turn, each house represents a bearing on the horizon where a celestial body also resides. The 32 houses are separated from one another by 11.25 degrees of arc, which, when added together, forms a complete circle of 360 degrees. To better explain, in the words of an expert…

The star compass is the basic mental construct for navigation. We have Hawaiian names for the houses of the stars – the place where they come out of the ocean and go back into the ocean. If you can identify the stars as they rise and set, and if you have memorized where they rise and set, you can find your direction
— Naino Thompson

And so, the students listened intently as Uncle Sol detailed all the ins and outs of wayfinding, while Trilogy V sailed back toward harbor to close out day 3’s fun and educational adventures.



On the final day of the 2019 Seabury Winterim the crew hiked up their sleeves and got ready for some fun, as the students prepared for their final test – a hands-on squid dissection (and we mean that in every sense of the word)!  Using ONLY their hands, each student searched for the 3 hard parts and the 3 defense mechanisms of their very own ooey, gooey squid, and very effectively got their hands dirty during this truly memorable experience.

SQUID 101:


A squid is made up of a mostly soft exterior, except for the Beak, Pen, and Lens of its eye.  While we’re all familiar with the colloquial “pen”, the pen of a squid is actually a rigid internal structure that supports its body, running through most of its length. It is made up of chitin: a tough, protective and semi-transparent substance, that almost looks like a hard piece of plastic, making it easy to identify during dissection. While relatively unthreatening, the squid still possesses multiple ways to defend itself that are located in different parts of its body, which Magen tasked the students with finding. These mechanisms include an ink sac, jet propulsion, and chromatophores, which are easily one of the neatest features of these little creatures.  Chromatophores are pigment-containing and light-reflecting cells, which essentially allow a squid to change its color in a fight or flight situation – super handy, no doubt! 


With dissection successfully complete, and minds now full of knowledge with all things squid, the students moved on to the next activity. Our final lesson of day 4 (and the week!) centered on Marine Mammals, with a particular focus on classifications.  Explaining each difference between the 8 biological classifications (domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species), Magen was able to help educate and answer the student’s questions with ease.  Fun fact: a mammal is a marine mammal if it relies on the ocean and other marine ecosystems for its existence (we’re lookin’ at you, polar bears and humpbacks)! With new facts and trivia buzzing in their heads, the Trilogy team then gathered up the group to once again board our catamaran for the very last time this Winterim, delighting the students to a thrilling Whale Watch and putting their newfound whale identification skills to the test.


All in all, despite some rainy weather and (very) strong winds during this year’s Winterim, the Seabury kids and teachers all had a fabulous week of excitement and education, and all done outside of the traditional classroom setting. Here at Trilogy, we so strongly believe that the best way to learn is to get out there and see & experience education firsthand!  We’re so happy to have been a part of this special week again this year and are already planning our 2020 curriculum. 

Mahalo to you all for reading (and learning) right alongside our Seabury students!  


Written by: Cyndie Ellis & Magen Schifiliti