This past year has been a new milestone when it comes to using personal technology to enhance the experience at Bolsa Chica.
Yes, I’m talking about your smartphone (sorry flip-phone lovers).
There are those who grumble at the idea of promoting the use of cellphones while out in nature. I see their concern, after all, the whole point of being out in nature is to enjoy getting away from the modern hustle and bustle (i.e. the sedentary yet fast-paced, battery sucking, screen worshiping, instant gratification lifestyle). You should be out watching real animals, smelling real flowers, hearing the wind in the trees, slowing the body and mind down with sunshine and fresh air to de-stress, heal, inspire, connect and commune with the natural world around us.
But who says you can’t do all of that when you have your smartphone? Ok, maybe not at the same level one could argue, but let me say that if it gets someone who wouldn’t otherwise go outside to experience the free bonuses of walking in nature, then by golly bring that phone! Many people lament about rising health problems (obesity, mental focus, depression), nature deficit, and the general disconnect with their surroundings and people. What we have here is a tool that is getting the younger generations outside, walking, and connecting with their surroundings and people.
Full disclosure: I am part of the Millennial generation, who uses technology AND am constantly trying to encourage my generation (and younger) to get off the couch and to learn to appreciate the value of becoming stewards to protect natural open spaces.
So how can smartphones encourage people to walk Bolsa Chica?
First, in collaboration with other organizations at Bolsa Chica, the Bolsa Chica Pro app we created was launched at the beginning of this year. This is an IOS based app (sorry Android users, it’s not available for us yet) that is basically a ‘personal tour guide in your pocket’. There are many different types of informational cards, a historic timeline, photographs and details to help you identify and learn about the flora and fauna, and even a notes section so you can record whatever you want to make it like a personal notebook all as you walk around the reserve.
“The Bolsa Chica Reserve is one of California’s premier urban wetland habitats. Our app helps you identify all known plants and animals in the Bolsa Chica. Download the Bolsa Chica app and explore this environmental treasure for yourself.”
Second, the app that took the world by storm last month and the one you are probably sick and tired of hearing about, but I’m going to say it anyway: Pokémon Go. All together now ::groan::
Ok, now that that is out of our system, the relatively new app (for both IOS and Android) uses the phone’s GPS to allow you to find Pokémon (the animated creatures) in real time at specific locations including Bolsa Chica (there is also a really cool function that used the phone’s camera to place the animated pokémon in the real world as viewed on your phone’s screen, which is a type of augmented reality). There are incentives like PokéStops (to gather supplies), gyms to battle the virtual critters, and specialized Pokémon depending on your environment. Here at Bolsa Chica, we see a plethora of water type Pokémon. You can also hatch Pokémon eggs as you walk certain distances, enticing the gamer to walk extra miles. You don’t have to stare at your phone as you walk to spot the creatures because it vibrates when one appears making it easy to enjoy your nature walk (take in all of the above benefits of being outside in nature) while still playing the game.
Now you might be asking me how much do these so-called apps cost? That’s also another great thing about them: they are free! Pokémon Go does have in-app purchasing available (which you can do, but I certainly do not). You do need a relatively new phone with the right operating system (mine is about 4 years old and it works fine, but older smartphones might not support them).
Ready to embrace technology and walk Bolsa Chica with me?