Monitoring Marine Protected Areas

Crystal Cove Conservancy’s flagship education program puts underserved students on the water to work alongside researchers.

In 2012, Crystal Cove Conservancy partnered with Newport Landing Sportfishing, Crystal Cove State Park, and researchers from UC Irvine to launch a first-of-its-kind program: the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Science Cruise, which puts junior high and high school students on the water to monitor changes to the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area.

Since then, the MPA Science Cruise has gained national acclaim for the way it brings together multiple organizations to create a one-of-a-kind STEM learning experience. The educational program, which is run in partnership with UC Irvine scientists, Crystal Cove State Park resource managers, and fishermen from Newport Landing Sportfishing, bridges the classroom and the real world as underserved students learn about the challenges facing our local marine environment and then head to sea aboard a fishing vessel to monitor the health of Crystal Cove’s State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA).

Every year, over 2,600 students take part in surveying plankton, measuring water quality, and using underwater cameras to study changes to the local fish population.  Over two thirds of the participating students come from Title 1 schools, and for many, the experience is their first time being on the water.

The MPA Science Cruise bridges classroom and real-world learning.  Students are introduced to the challenges facing California’s marine ecosystems at school, where they learn about the Marine Protected Area system and create a model to predict how different factors influence fish populations.  They then join Conservancy staff, Newport Landing fishermen, and UC Irvine interns on the water, where they’re responsible for collecting data for one of three monitoring projects.

Back in the classroom, students work in teams to analyze their data and share their findings back with Crystal Cove State Park. Their data is shared with researchers studying the Crystal Cove SMCA and is also published online on the University of California’s Dryad data portal, where it is publicly accessible to other scientists. Student-collected data has also been included in a scientific journal article published in PLoS in 2019.

During the 2020-2021 school year, with the state of field trips uncertain due to COVID-19, Crystal Cove Conservancy will be adapting the program for distance learning.  Although junior high and high school students may not be able to join us on the water in person, they will be invited to help analyze data and share their findings from home or school as part of our new MPA Exploration.  We are incredibly grateful to our partners at the Ocean Protection Council and Coastal Quest for their investment in this program at such a critical time.

Are you a teacher who would like to get your students involved in the MPA Science Exploration?

For more information or to sign up, please contact the Conservancy by emailing You can also book boat programs through our partners at Newport Whales.

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