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 water chemistry 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 lesson guide and student notebook pages 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) was 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 chemistry.  By monitoring these key indicators, we hope to understand how well the SMCA is fulfilling its intent of protecting marine resources.

Monitoring the ocean’s water chemistry over time by measuring the temperature, salinity, and pH of water samples throughout the year is important because changes to these abiotic factors can impact the marine life that lives in the ocean. Most marine life is adapted to live in certain conditions and may not survive if those conditions change too drastically. Climate change leads to increases in sea surface temperatures and a decrease in pH, in a process known as ocean acidification. If climate change is causing those changes to occur within the SMCA, then the marine life will be impacted even if the area is protected from overfishing. It is helpful for the environmental scientists at Crystal Cove State Park to be aware of changes in water chemistry so that they can understand the trends that they see in marine life populations and can make more informed decisions about managing the SMCA.

How You Can Help

That’s where we need your help!  You can help us analyze data on water chemistry, from data collected since 2015 during MPA Science Cruise trips. To help us, you will need to:

  1. Learn more about the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area and ocean acidification by watching the slideshow 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 water chemistry data.
  3. Take a virtual trip with Kaitlin aboard the Western Pride to see how she collects water samples and collects water chemistry data. Try your hand at recording water chemistry data that was collected during a past MPA Science Cruise program.
  4. Use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to analyze and graph the water chemistry data since 2015 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 Kaitlin on Voicethread, which will introduce you to the project.

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 water chemistry measurements of temperature, salinity, and pH since 2015?

What do you predict you’ll find when you analyze the water chemistry data?  Make hypotheses and share your initial ideas with us by completing this Google Form.

Step 3:  Virtually Collect Data.


Now that you have developed your hypotheses, take a virtual trip aboard the Western Pride to the Crystal Cove SMCA with Kaitlin on ThingLink to see how she collects water samples and the equipment she uses to collect data on water chemistry.  Practice recording water chemistry measurements by reviewing this equipment guide, and looking at the images of the equipment showing measurements from a water sample here.  Submit your data to us through this Google Form.

Step 4:  Analyze and graph the data.

The raw data for temperature, salinity, and pH from cruises since 2015 is available to download from Google Drive.  If you want to analyze the data in 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 video on YouTube. 

Do you have questions about the data that you want answered by Crystal Cove Conservancy staff members or scientists? Submit any questions you or your classmates have to this Padlet.

Step 5:  Share your findings!

We want to know what you found!  Did you notice any annual or seasonal trends in the water chemistry 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. This information will help them better understand the water chemistry trends, which will help them make more informed resource management decisions.

Would you like to communicate with other students who analyzed the data to talk more about it?  Contribute your thoughts, comments, or questions about the data to this Padlet and see what other people are thinking about the data, too.

Step 6:  Reflect on water chemistry monitoring.

It’s important for scientists to take some time to reflect on how their thinking has changed. Watch the video of Kaitlin to help you start reflecting on your experiences with water chemistry monitoring and answer the following reflection questions.

  1. What did you do during this environmental challenge?
  2. What did you learn? How did your thinking change?
  3. Do you think it is important to monitor the water quality in the Crystal Cove SMCA over time? Why or why not?
  4. Did you enjoy analyzing data and sharing your findings to help protect the MPA?  What did or didn’t you like about the experience?
  5. Would you like to learn more about the ocean ecosystem or how scientists monitor water chemistry?  If so, what topics interest you?  Do you have ideas of how you could learn more about them?

Are you interested in getting involved in other community science activities? Explore how to contribute to projects at these websites.

Did you enjoy doing the work of a marine scientist?  Would you like to learn more about marine careers?  Explore career options by reading interviews with people who have a wide range of interests that are connected to the ocean at

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

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