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A chartered northern isle

September 24, 2003

Marisa O'Neil

Next summer, Orange Coast College students could have the opportunity

take tests and face challenges on a remote island.

But on the college's newly acquired Rabbit Island, no one will get

voted off at a tribal counsel and midterms will replace immunity

challenges.

Recent visitors to Rabbit Island, including OCC professor of

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marine science Dennis Kelly, will lecture tonight about their trip

and what they see as its future role for the school.

"Next summer we'd like to get groups of 12 to 16 students to go

for seven to 10 days at a time for classes in marine science or

kayaking or photography and things like that," Doug Bennett, director

of the college's foundation, said.

The OCC Foundation received the 36-acre island in British Columbia

earlier this year as a donation from Southern California yachtsman

Henry Wheeler. The island has been appraised at $750,000.

In June, a group of 12 students, faculty, staff, administrators

and local residents visited the island for a four-day scouting trip.

While there, they studied its plants, animals, sea life and waterways

on foot and by kayak.

Bennett said that it took the better part of a day -- from 5 a.m.

to 9:30 p.m. to get to Rabbit Island by plane, truck and boat. Rabbit

Island lies near the Straights of Georgia, about 50 miles from

Vancouver.

"The island happens to sit next to a passage where killer whales

go from north British Columbia to South British Columbia and back,"

Kelly said. "Whale and marine mammal watching can be done, we can

study island ecology, survey trees, clean up the island, identify and

count plants. We found that the island even has lizards and snakes."

Kelly said that a variety of birds, including bald eagles, live on

Rabbit Island. A large span between high and low tides -- 16 feet,

compared to five or six locally -- also provides opportunities to

study sea life.

He has already proposed a class to study the island's intertidal

system next summer.

The island has a lodge, four cabins, a working kitchen,

electricity and one flush toilet. Bennett said that the OCC

Foundation will spend $100,000 to add more toilets, improve the

electrical systems and upgrade more amenities.

When work is finished, he expects it could accommodate 16 to 20

people at a time. Even with the updates, Bennett said it will still

be more of an "Outward Bound" type of adventure for students than an

exotic getaway.

"It's a whole different environment than Orange County," he said.

"You're out in nature, the electricity isn't always reliable. But

when you go out at night, you see a lot more stars."

Bennett said that faculty members are exploring teaching options

on Rabbit Island for next summer. He hopes that the school can

arrange credit courses on the island for a total cost of about $1,000

to $1,500 for students, including transportation, food,

accommodations and instruction.

* MARISA O'NEIL covers education and may be reached at (949)

574-4268 or by e-mail at marisa.oneil@latimes.com.

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