For the past several years, Crystal Cove Conservancy has partnered with Newport Whales, Crystal Cove State Park, UC Irvine researchers, and junior high and high school students from across Southern California to monitor the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area during one of our education programs, the Marine Protected Area Science Cruise.

Now, we need your help to analyze some of the fish population data collected during the cruises to look for trends!

For teachers:  If you are a teacher and would like to run this project with your science or math class, feel free to use this scaffolding document as a guide!

We would like to know who is taking part in the program! Please fill out this participation form if you have used any of the challenges.

Background on the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area

Southern California’s system of Marine Protected Areas (commonly shortened to MPAs) were officially established on January 1, 2012.  This network of offshore, underwater parks is intended to help manage marine resources and protect marine ecosystems from potential threats like overfishing.

Crystal Cove’s State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) is located just offshore from Crystal Cove State Park.  As an SMCA, nothing is allowed to be taken from the area’s tidepool habitat, but fishing is otherwise permitted.

Crystal Cove Conservancy has been helping to monitor the Crystal Cove SMCA since 2012 through our MPA Science Cruises, which enlist the help of junior high and high school students to step into the role of community scientists and collect data on fish populations, plankton species, and water quality.  By monitoring these key indicators, we hope to understand how well the SMCA is fulfilling its intent of protecting marine resources.

How You Can Help

That’s where we need your help!  You can help us analyze data on the presence or absence of six key fish species, from data collected over three and a half years during MPA Science Cruise trips.

To help us, you will need to:

  1. Learn more about the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area by watching and reading through the background materials below.
  2. Make a hypothesis on whether you think you will find evidence of seasonal or annual trends in the data.
  3. Try your hand at identifying the six key fish species in underwater videos that were taken during past MPA Science Cruise programs.
  4. Use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to analyze and graph the data to look for trends.
  5. Share your findings back with us!

Thank you in advance for your help!  We’re really excited to see what you find.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us by emailing

Step 1:  Learn more about the CCSMCA.

Start by watching and listening to the Introduction to the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area slideshow with Holly on Google Slides or Dropbox, which will introduce you to the project and the two monitoring sites.

If you want more information, check out these additional resources:

Step 2:  Develop a hypothesis.

Once you’ve looked through the background materials, think about our monitoring question.

  • Monitoring Question:  Have there been annual or seasonal trends in the average number of target fish species observed from 2016 to 2019?

What do you predict you’ll find when you analyze the fish data set?  Make a hypothesis and share your initial ideas with us by completing this Google Form.

Step 3:  Try to identify fish.

See if you can use our SMCA Fish field guide to identify fish in the following videos, which were recorded during previous Marine Protected Area Science Cruises:

Watch each video, and use the field guide to identify the fish that you see.  You can pause the video at any time.  As you identify fish in each video, please record your observations in our online data form here.

Step 4:  Analyze and graph the data.

The raw data is available to download from Google Drive or Dropbox.  If you want to use Google Sheets, before making changes, you will need to open the file and make a copy to save in your own Google Drive folder.

For some suggestions on how to think about analyzing the data, please check out the Data Analysis Crash Course slideshow on Youtube!

Step 5:  Share your findings!

We want to know what you found!  Did you notice any annual or seasonal trends in the fish data?

Please share your findings through Google Forms here!  As part of your conclusions, it would be really helpful to get a copy of any graphs or other data visualizations that you created so that we can share them with Crystal Cove State Park’s environmental scientists.

Thank you for your help!  If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us by emailing

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