Welcome to the

Marine Protected Area Exploration!

Students throw plankton nets overboard on the in-person MPA Exploration cruise.

During this virtual and in person marine science education program, middle school and high school students take part in ecological monitoring in the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area, helping us understand how the underwater ecosystem there is changing!

The MPA Science Cruise originally launched in 2012 as a partnership between Crystal Cove Conservancy, Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Landing Sportfishing, marine researchers, local teachers, and students to monitor the Crystal Cove SMCA and see how it is changing over time.  Since then, student-analyzed data has become an integral part of our monitoring efforts every year.

The educational curriculum is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards for middle and high school. During the program’s ten sessions, students work in research teams to learn more about California’s Marine Protected Area system, design a collaborative model, help record and analyze data for several monitoring projects, and then use science communication skills to share their findings with different audiences.

Please visit our field trip page for information on booking an in-person trip.

The virtual version of the MPA Exploration program was made possible through a 2020 grant from the Ocean Protection Council and Coastal Quest’s MPA Outreach & Education Small Grants program. Coastal Quest administers the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Outreach and Education Small Grants Program. This competitive grant program, funded by the Ocean Protection Council and private donors, provides support to organizations serving many priority communities to increase MPA stewardship, engagement, compliance, and leadership. For more information on Coastal Quest and the MPA Small Grants Program, visit their website (www.coastal-quest.org) or check out this grant announcement!

 How to Join

The virtual version of the MPA Exploration program is free for everyone! You will find the lesson guides, slideshows, virtual explorations, and other supporting material all linked below.

We’d love to know who is using our curriculum! If you are a teacher or homeschool educator and plan to use the virtual version of the MPA Exploration program during the 2024-2025 school year, please complete this survey and let us know. 

If you have any questions about the program, feel free to contact Alyssa Aldaz, Education Manager, by emailing alyssa@crystalcove.org.

If you would like to participate in this program in person, you can find more information about field trips here.

Teacher Professional Development

We highly recommend that all teachers, educators, and parents who will be facilitating the Marine Science Exploration attend an online professional development session. This training gives an overview of the program, an introduction to the different lessons, and walks you through general teaching logistics.  

2023-2024 Training Dates:

In-person workshops (recommended for teachers participating in field trips):


MPA Exploration Curriculum

Teacher & Educator Resources

Session 1: Welcome to the Crystal Cove SMCA!

Session 2: Asking Questions About MPAs

Session 3: Building a Model

Session 4: Diving Deeper (optional)

Session 5: Preparing to Collect Data

Session 6: Collecting Data

Session 7: Analyzing Data

Session 8: Constructing a Message (optional)

Session 9: Finalizing Your Plan (optional)

Session 10: Executing Your Plan (optional)


Have any other questions? Please contact Alyssa, Education Manager, by emailing alyssa@crystalcove.org for more information!

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