MEP Manual

MEP Manual

Manual Table of Contents – 

  1. Who is FRC?
  2. Welcome
  3. What is MEP & WHY do we do it?
  4. Background
  5. FAQs
  6. How Do I Apply?
  7. Before You Arrive
  8. How MEP meets school curriculum/standards
  9. Learning the Marine Mammal Monitoring Protocol
  10. Learning the Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Protocol
  11. Itinerary
  12. Curriculum
  13. General Info, Rules & Regulations
  14. Camping
  15. Food
  16. Teacher Checklist 
  17. Transportation
  18. Potential add-on program components
  19. Costs/Fee Waivers/Payment Instructions –
  20. Funders
  21. Teacher/Chaperone Packet
  22. Cancellations

1.Who is FRC?

Fort Ross Conservancy — Connecting people to the history and beauty
of Fort Ross & Salt Point State Parks.

Fort Ross Conservancy (FRC) is a public charity 501(c)(3) and California State Park Cooperating Association whose mission is to promote educational, environmental, and interpretive activities at Fort Ross State Historic Park and Salt Point State Park. FRC has been in operation since 1976.

2. Welcome!
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, and high school 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.

3. What is MEP & Why Do We Do it?
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 that collects data for our specific section of coast marine wildlife, and monitors the changes happening with the marine mammals. This program provides students will the opportunity to learn about marine ecology, while being immersed in the natural, coastal environment of Fort Ross State Historic Park. MEP 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 (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 Introduction to Rocky Intertidal Zone and its Creatures
    • 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

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


Why Does This Matter?
Marine life on the coast of Northern 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. Continued long-term monitoring of both of these habitats is important to evaluate the health and changes happening due to influences such as climate change. By collecting and creating baseline data during our MEP and MMM programs, we will have more information to work with in assessing current or future impacts. Allowing students to take part will inspire their future conservation work.

4. Background

Why Fort Ross?
Fort Ross State Historic Park is well known internationally for its cultural history, but it also boasts pristine and diverse natural history. The park contains about 3,400 acres of wildlands ranging from coastal hills covered in redwood and California oak, marine terrace grasslands, and of course the sandy beaches and rocky intertidal zone.

Fort Ross’ history is inextricably tied to the Pacific Ocean’s resources. Russians colonized Alaska in their hunt for “soft gold”–furs–and later migrated down the Pacific coast with three primary goals: to find a warmer location whereby they could grow enough food to feed their Russian Alaskan settlements, to establish trade, and to increase the range of marine mammals being hunted. It’s worth noting, 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, who then traded the furs for trade goods mostly with the Chinese. The Russians realized that the hunting was putting some species on the brink of extinction, so they created one of the earliest moratoriums on hunting practices in the North Pacific.


5. FAQs

Q. When should I schedule a MEP?

  • All trips should be scheduled around good weather (IF possible). The best season is from April through November. MEP Rocky Intertidal Monitoring programs must be scheduled with a low tide during daylight on the first day, or on the morning/mid day after the overnight; call us to discuss.
  • For online tide tables, visit Tide Chart for Fort Ross, CA. You may also purchase a tide prediction book such as Tidelog, www.tidelog.com.

Q: How many students can participate in each group?

  • MEP functions best with 20 to 50 students. This provides each student with sufficient time with instructors and teachers.

Q. How many adult chaperones and/or teachers in each group?

  • One adult (21 years or older) chaperone to every 6 students.

Q. What age group can participate in MEP?

  • We welcome all ages!

6. How do I apply?

  • Apply here.
  • We will email you to discuss potential dates.
  • Begin preparation. This program succeeds best when the teacher is fully on board. Learning to correctly identify species and perform the monitoring procedures can take time, but for the science geeks in your group, this is the best part.
  • Integrate the curriculum in the classroom prior to your field trip.

7. Before You Arrive

  • Further Reading for Students & Teachers:
    • Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: West Coast by Steve N.G. Howell & Brian L. Sullivan
    • Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast by Sarah G. Allen, Joe Mortenson, and Sophie Webb
    • Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, National Audubon Society
    • Fylling’s Illustrated Guide to Pacific Coast Tide Pools by Marni Fylling

Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association
Marine Mammal Center
LiMPETS Monitoring

8. How MEP Meets School Curriculum/Standards
Each lesson is tailored to be compliant with California State Education regulations, and is evolving to be aligned with NGSS. If there is a certain focus your class has been studying and would like to especially tie in with our MEP, please let us know.

Marine Mammal protocol

9. Marine Mammal Monitoring Program Protocol
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 (field work)
  • Lesson 3: Marine Mammal Monitoring – Sea Lions (field work)

By providing an accurate year-round count of their presence, we hope to address questions such as:

  • What is the trend for Steller Sea Lions at Fort Ross?
  • Does Fort Ross host a breeding colony of Stellers? Are there pups here, and if so, when?
  • What is the relation between California Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Elephant Seals and Steller Sea Lions at Fort Ross? How does each population use the offshore rocks and marine resources? Are they competing for space?
  • What other marine mammals call these rocks home?


10. Rocky Intertidal Zone Protocol
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 Introduction to Rocky Intertidal Zone and its Creatures
  • Lesson 5: Exploring the Rocky Intertidal Zone of Fort Ross (field work)
  • Lesson 6: Field Photography, Identification and Data Upload to iNaturalist

11. Itinerary – An Itinerary will be made for your individual MEP and sent as a PDF, once school has applied and committed, picked lessons, and given Arrival and Departure times.

12. Curriculum – Will be sent as a PDF, once school has applied and committed.

13. General Info, Rules & Regulations

  • Fort Ross is located on the remote coast of northern Sonoma County. There is VERY limited cell service, so don’t expect to use your cell phone to navigate to the park, or make any calls once past Bodega Bay or Guerneville. If there is an emergency, Fort Ross Conservancy has land-line phones in the office of the Visitor Center (open from 10-4:30)
  • See Emergency Sheet for more details
  • While we want everyone to feel free to enjoy the park, please do remember that you are coming to a protected California State Historic Park. Please DO NOT remove anything from the park–and that means animals, plants, rocks, sticks, shells, glass, bones, etc. If you find what looks to be an historic item, leave it where you found it, take a photo of it and surroundings if possible, and advise a Fort Ross Conservancy staff member of its location.
  • Unfortunately there are no dogs allowed between Reef Campground and Fort Ross, so we ask that you leave your canine friends at home. Thanks!
  • For each group of 6 students, we require at least one chaperone or parent. This is mandatory. Chaperones must be 21 years or older. They must be comfortable and ready to redirect an unfocused group back to learning. All chaperones must be present from the start of each MEP session.
  • As teachers, parents, chaperones and students, we expect all interactions to be respectful, courteous, and kind.
  • It is very important to stick to the schedule. A lot of time has been put into making sure we offer the best program possible and this means not missing any element we have planned for the students. We appreciate your help in keeping to the schedule.
  • During the presentations in the auditorium, we expect all cell phones and other devices to be put away while our specialist gives the lecture. We ask all parents and chaperones to help in monitoring this.
  • When the students are broken into groups during our outside activities , at least one parent or chaperone will accompany each group (but more than one is preferable). They are the leaders and are expected to encourage the students to learn and be engaged.

14. Camping
During the overnight, students and adults will camp at the beautiful Reef Campground, just one mile south of Fort Ross. Reef campground has no night time lighting, all necessary lights must be brought with you. There are also NO showers.
For safety reasons and for camp set up & break down, each group who arrives via bus will also need a minimum of one LARGE vehicle (van, truck or suburban type recommended) to transport supplies down to their campsite. THIS IS MANDATORY. See Section 15.
When packing up the morning after, ALL TRASH must be cleaned up and contained in bags. Recycling separated in it’s own bag. (A dumpster is located just northwest of the FRSHP parking lot.) Please have the chaperone with a car bring this to the dumpsters before leaving.

Camping Supplies
We recommend each student bring:

  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • pillow
  • plenty of warm clothes (including hat and rain gear during rain season)
  • change of shoes and socks
  • tent and tarp (or shared tent, with enough camping gear to accommodate all participants )
  • flashlight
  • Baby wipes (great for cleaning sticky hands, muddy feet, etc.)

We recommend each school group (or teacher/chaperone?) bring:

  • matches
  • trash bags
  • extra warm clothing and rain gear

FRC CAN provide, upon request:

  • One propane camp stove
  • Water kettle
  • Pot & one (12”) pan

Camping Rules

  • Fires of any kind are allowed ONLY in the existing fire pits.
  • Security Deposit for any FRC gear – FRC can offer pop-up (floorless) canopies to use for sleeping or to store supplies & luggage, if necessary. If you are interested in using these, please inform us ($200 deposit required).
  • Please do not pick any plants or flowers.
  • Once the sun goes down, this is sleepy time for all the natural critters in the area; please be respectful to them and neighbor campers and keep the noise level down. State Park campground quiet time is from 10pm to 6am.
  • If you have a campfire, the next morning be sure to pour ample water over the coals to ensure you’re not spreading fire outside of the safe fire pit.
  • There are both Stinging Nettles and Poison Oak nearby to Reef campground. Before you come, be sure you and the students can clearly identify both of these.
  • Fort Ross also plays host to ticks; again these should be identifiable by both students and adults and checked for regularly. If there’s a tickle, check it!
  • Make sure all food is securely stored at the campground both during the day and evening. Food left with camping gear or in tents can attract raccoons and other wildlife.

15. Food and Water

  • All students must bring a refillable water bottle. Safe potable water is available both at Reef Campground, in the Fort Compound and in the Visitor Center (but some visitors prefer the taste of bottled water). Bring enough water to refill water bottles, make tea/coffee in the morning etc. Approx. 1 gal/person/day.
  • Our MEP is a GREEN program, let’s reuse and not bring single-use containers!
  • Sack lunches for first day
  • Easy food for a camping dinner and (if applicable) breakfast and then lunch on the trail or fort on Day 2 (refer to itineraries and lunch location options).
  • Recommended Meals – Pre-made or close to
  • Dinner: Soups, Chili, Baked Beans, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Potatoes in foil, PB & J, Carrot Sticks, Canned Corn or Green Beans, etc.
  • Breakfast: Hard Boiled Eggs, Cereal & Milk, Granola & Yogurt, Instant Oatmeal, Fruit, Bagels & Cream Cheese, etc.
  • Snacks. MEP requires a fair amount of activity and kids will get hungry.
  • Granola Bars, Fruit, Carrots, Peanut Butter, Jerky, Trail Mix & Nuts, etc.

16. Teacher Checklist

  • Read the Manual from cover to cover
  • Integrate MEP curriculum into the classroom
  • Distribute the Waivers to be signed and returned and Supplies List to the students & parents
  • Make sure all permission slips and ER cards are turned in
  • Create Name Tags for each student and chaperone
  • Send out letter/supply list, directions to the park/program rules/camping regulations (General info) to
  • students/parents (two weeks prior to departure)
  • Supplies: Marine mammal guidebook, matches, flashlights, extra warm clothes (for kids), campfire activities, camping gear
  • Phone the park and discuss any special needs of your class, weather etc.
  • Make sure the students have snacks, lunch, and water packed and ready to go
  • First Aid Kit
  • For overnight groups, before leaving, teachers and chaperones MUST make sure their campsite is free of all trash, all personal items have been collected, and fire is doused completely

Chaperones – Teachers, pick your chaperones wisely. A helpful chaperone goes a long way to make your and your students experiences easy, fun and memorable. A chaperone who distracts the program can take a lot from your time at Fort Ross.

All chaperones must be present from start to finish of each MEP session.

  • Know what his/her individual role and responsibility is
    • Chaperones must be 21 years or older. They must be comfortable and ready to redirect an unfocused group back to learning
    • As teachers, parents, chaperones and students, we expect all interactions to be respectful, courteous, and kind
    • Help us to stick to the schedule
    • Help us keep students focused on lecture – no cell phones during the presentations
    • When the students are broken into groups during outdoor activities, at least one (but more than one preferred) parent or chaperone will accompany each group. They are the leaders and are expected to coach the students to learn, pay attention and be involved
  • Be willing to work with and lead the group in research and organize the on-site visit.
  • Know the Rules and Regulations
  • Have the name and email of a Fort Ross Conservancy staff member so you can contact us if you have specific questions that are not answered in the manual.

17. Transportation

  • We highly recommend using cars, as this gives the option of driving from Reef to the FR Auditorium, or driving to Salt Point for an intertidal activity, giving more time to be spent on the program and out in the field and not as physically demanding of (especially younger) students.
  • For the overnight MEP, most school buses prefer to leave Fort Ross after drop-off, and then return for pick-up on the second day… leaving the group without any transportation during their visit.
  • If your school has been awarded a transportation subsidy, FRC will pay $.585/mile for each car.
  • For FRC to cover the cost of a bus, there is a minimum of 30 students required to participate.

18. Potential Add-On Components

  • Optional pre-visit school visit available
  • Storytelling at campsite. This is NOT covered by fee waivers

19. Costs/Fee Waivers/Payment Instructions

Program Fees for students and/or chaperones can be discounted or waived
Transportation, private cars (preferred), can be subsidized ($.625/mile per car)

MEP fees

Public lands and outdoor learning experiences should be available to all, irrespective of the cost, and FRC aims to minimize the financial challenges that keep kids from taking important field trips. Thanks to the generous support from our donors we have created the Fort Ross Education Fund to offer program fee waivers and/or transportation subsidies to schools that would otherwise be unable to participate. We welcome teachers of all schools to apply!

20. Funders
Fort Ross Conservancy’s Marine Ecology Program is brought to you by Fort Ross Conservancy, the Brenner Foundation, Lagunitas Brewing Coand private donors.

21. Teacher Packet

  • Print out 1 Itinerary for each chaperone
  • Print out of Emergency Protocol
  • Print out Arrival Protocol
  • Print out of Rules & Regulations

22. Cancellations/Rescheduling – The following is the policy with Fort Ross Conservancy for cancellation of a Marine Ecology Program:

  • If for some reason Fort Ross Conservancy cancels your program, we will do everything possible to offer you another date or will refund any program fees paid. Possible cancellations by FRC occur under these circumstances: when conditions occur that FRC and/or CA State Parks considers unsafe, e.g. weather, road conditions or unscheduled maintenance that will detract from the learning experience. If such conditions exist, FRC staff will contact the group leader the day before departure, and a final decision will be determined sometimes only early in the morning, prior to departure.
  • A $100 commitment fee is due upon confirmation. Commitment fees are non-refundable, but they are transferable with a minimum 7 day cancellation notice. Please call 707-847-3437 to pay by credit card or make checks payable to Fort Ross Conservancy.