Fort Ross Conservancy’s Marine Ecology Program


Fort Ross Conservancy’s (FRC’s) Marine Ecology Program (MEP) offers a wonderful opportunity for youth to learn about local marine ecology as they hike the coastline of Fort Ross State Historic Park, interact with and observe marine species, and enjoy optional camping on the beautiful Sonoma Coast.

Elementary, middle, high school and college students spend one or two days immersed in the day-to-day tasks of a marine biologist. They will learn the proper way to conduct themselves around wildlife, be introduced to the intricacies of data protocols and collection, and observe the abundant marine life.

By experiencing first hand what it means to be a citizen scientist, we foster a deeper appreciation of marine science and nature and encourage these students to focus on marine stewardship and the environmental sciences.

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Your Time at Fort Ross

Once you apply for your visit, we will customize your MEP itinerary to reflect travel time, time of low and high tides, and available daylight.

Ready to sign up? please go to our online MEP Application form, or for more information, please contact Director of Programs Song Hunter at


Our Marine Ecology Program (MEP) is a citizen science, environmental educational and monitoring program for teachers, students and parents. The MEP was developed to complement FRC’s Marine Mammal Monitoring (MMM) program; a program in which participants collect data for our specific section of coast marine wildlife, and monitor changes happening with the marine mammals. The MEP provides students will the opportunity to learn about marine ecology, while being immersed in the natural, coastal environment of Fort Ross State Historic Park. This program offers hands-on activities that allow students to build skills in scientific observation, data collection, and scientific analysis. These monitoring activities are preceded by introductory lessons, as well as review lessons that encourage students to think about what they observed, and the methods used to observe and collect data. MEP lessons include:

  • Marine Mammal Monitoring–After hiking out to the coastal bluffs, students use telescopes and binoculars to practice identifying, counting, and observing the large marine fauna (Harbor Seals, California and Steller Sea Lions) that haul out on rocks just offshore from our park.
    • Lesson 1: Introduction to Marine Mammals & Monitoring at Fort Ross
    • Lesson 2: Marine Mammal Monitoring – Harbor Seals (field work)
    • Lesson 3: Marine Mammal Monitoring – Sea Lions (field work)

  • Rocky Intertidal Monitoring–In this lesson we “go small and up close” by studying and visiting the rocky intertidal zone during low tide. Some of the invertebrates that we observe are the Purple Sea Urchin, Ochre Sea Star, and the Giant Green and Sunburst Anemones.
    • Lesson 4: Illustrated Intro to the Rocky Intertidal Zone and its Inhabitants
    • Lesson 5: Exploring the Rocky Intertidal Zone of Fort Ross (field work)
    • Lesson 6: Field Photography, Identification and Data Upload to iNaturalist

  • Students learn about the Cultural History of Fort Ross State Historic Park and how the different peoples living and working at Fort Ross both positively and negatively impacted the local marine ecosystems.
    • Lesson 7: Fort Ross & the North Pacific Fur Trade
    • Lesson 8: Human Impacts on Marine Ecosystems -LESSON 8 IS NOW INCORPORATED IN ALL OTHER LESSONS

  • Additional Optional Lessons
    • Lesson 9:  Field Journal Exercise – Learning from Nature’s Teachers

FRC provides participating teachers with the curriculum prior to the field trip, as well as onsite monitoring equipment and FRC teaching staff.

Are there scholarships available?
FRC’s Youth Educational Fund strives to ensure that all students have access to quality outdoor education. Thanks to support from the California Coastal Commission, and generous local donors, FRC can offer a waiver of fees to schools who would otherwise be unable to participate. Ready to sign up or apply for a scholarship? please go to our online application form.

Why Fort Ross?

Fort Ross State Historic Park is internationally known for its cultural history, but it also boasts pristine and diverse natural history. Fort Ross’ history is inextricably tied to the Pacific Ocean’s resources. Russians colonized Alaska in their hunt for “soft gold”–marine mammal furs–and later traveled down the Pacific coast with three primary goals: to find a warmer location whereby they could grow enough food to feed those Alaskan settlements, to establish trade, and to increase the range of marine mammals being hunted. It wasn’t only the Russians hunting marine mammals, but also the British and Americans who hunted sea otters, northern fur seals, and other mammals that once thrived along our coast, trading these goods with the Chinese.

Fort Ross provides an excellent place to explore how human practices have a deep and long-lasting effect on the natural world. This land has been used by different peoples in many different ways (cultural, spiritual, economic, and recreational) throughout its human history. At Fort Ross we can reflect upon how these different practices have affected the local ecosystems over time.

Marine life on the coast of California is one of the most diverse and productive in the world. Even with the great news of 2015, that the waters off the coast of Fort Ross are now included in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, there are still threats: poaching of protected species, overfishing, human degradation caused by oil spills, pollution and litter. By collecting and creating data during our MEP and MMM programs, we will have more information to work with in assessing current or future impacts.

What Marine Mammals Live off the Fort Ross Coast Today?

Several species of marine mammals have re-established populations at Fort Ross:

These species, rarely seen here now, were once plentiful prior to the 19th century “Soft Gold Rush” by Americans, British and Russians: