Annie MacAulay ’11
Founder, Mountain and Sea Adventures
Most camp experiences don’t involve a boat ride back in time, yet that’s very nearly what campers encounter as they head to Mountain and Sea Adventures (MSA) on Catalina Island. In the hour-and-a-half crossing, they leave behind the bustling and congested urban port of San Pedro and arrive on the island’s north-facing shore with a stunning view of White Cove, their home for the next several days.
Annie MacAulay ’11 is the founder, president, and CEO of MSA, but around the campgrounds she goes by her camp name, Playful. “Our goal here is to create world-changing adventurers who love and steward the Earth,” she says.
Since Annie founded MSA in 1997, her science camps annually welcome groups of students from about 100 area schools. In total, 130,000 young campers have been transformed by an MSA experience, either on land camps around Catalina, aboard the floating sea camp Enhydra, or at MSA’s mountain camp for the study of physics and astronomy.
“Being connected with Azusa Pacific as I was starting Mountain and Sea Adventures was really vital in getting us past the formation stage and providing help and support that we needed to press on. The prayer and practical guidance I received was incredibly encouraging.”
Educators say these camp environments are ideal for elementary, middle, and high school learners to reinforce and augment their school science curriculum. For some youth, it is their first time visiting the ocean, spending extended time in nature, or going without phones or electronics. It can feel otherworldly, particularly when one of Catalina’s wild bison strolls cautiously through camp or a dolphin pod appears on the horizon. The effect on campers is eye-opening and awe-inspiring.
At camp and in life, it takes courage to try something new or to face the unknown. That’s why Annie shapes her camp curriculum around character-building activities and messages that gently push campers to break down their fears. Daily inspirations (or devotions for groups from faith-based schools) set a growth mindset for campers before they launch into a packed schedule designed to challenge them intellectually and personally.
Each day at camp is spent immersed in the splendor of creation. Campers go snorkeling to observe fish in their coastal habitat, take part in a plankton tow and microscopic water analysis, and learn to differentiate between invertebrates and vertebrates in the camp’s touch tank. Across camp, others gingerly dissect squid under the guidance of a counselor, discuss the impact of plastics and marine debris, and study the cove’s many teeming tidepools.
“We want the kids to feel like they’re marine biologists in training,” says Annie. “They all keep field journals to record the details of their observations and collect data throughout their stay.”
There are few better locations to practice scientific thinking and cultivate a love of nature than Catalina, a true cross section of the state’s coastline in its most natural form, says Annie. “The island is an amazing place where we can see the natural and historical abundance of California without all of the development that has taken place on the mainland,” she says. “It is environmentally pristine with an active conservancy that strives to keep indigenous and endemic species thriving here.”
Beyond the science curriculum, Annie and her MSA team teach campers that when conditions or currents change at sea—as they often do—how you respond determines your course. As Annie persists in her mission to instill courage and perseverance in tomorrow’s scientists and leaders, she says her hope for the future continues to multiply. Helping young people understand and be part of the movement to restore the natural world is an act of worship for Annie. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” she says. “When we’re doing astronomy with a group of kids and looking at the stars, that is literally the heavens themselves that are pulling them closer to God’s heart.”
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.”
It’s not uncommon to find Annie and her husband Fran, also MSA’s ship captain and scuba instructor, praying over the coves of Catalina for the wildlife and ecosystem to flourish. “We continue to be awakened to what we feel God is speaking through His creation,” Annie says. She is also deeply invested in the spiritual development of her camp staffers, mostly young adults just out of college. Annie openly shares her faith with them and baptizes those who decide to follow Christ.
Aboard MSA’s shoreboat, the Double Portion, Annie looks out over her camp and the surrounding waters, reflecting on what has sustained her tenacious spirit and enduring calling to lead the next generations. “From the time the Lord put on my heart the idea to start Mountain and Sea Adventures, I knew that I had to walk in faith, because only God would be able to provide a way,” she says.