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, 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. Download our flyer.


Applying to FRC’s Marine Ecology Program
Ready to sign up? Please visit our Online Application Form, or for more information, contact Director of Programs Song Hunter or call (707) 847-343

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 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. 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.

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

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:


Your Time at Fort Ross
To give you an idea of what your MEP visit would look like, we provide sample itineraries for both a one-day and overnight program. Once you book your visit, we will customize your MEP itinerary to reflect travel time, time of low and high tides, and available daylight.

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, Renova Fort Ross Foundation, and several 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 or for more information, please contact Marine Ecology Program Manager Sondra Hunter at or call (707) 847-3437.

Marine Ecology Program with Fort Ross Conservancy

Teacher Testimonials

MEP 11.20.15 & 11.21.15
What a phenomenal opportunity! The Marine Ecology Program, offered at the historical Fort Ross, is an incredible opportunity for youth of different ages to immerse themselves in nature while learning about marine biology, biodiversity and history through experiential education. My students from San Francisco International High School were truly inspired by the incredible beauty of Fort Ross, by the mystery and importance of marine creatures great and tiny, and by the realization that the kids can discover so much more when they leave their comfort zones behind. It was a pleasure to watch students enjoy and grow from the MEP experience. I am grateful to the Fort Ross Conservancy staff and educators for working closely together with myself and our school to make this a beautiful, educational and memorable experience for all involved!
Vlada Teper
San Francisco International High School Teacher
I M U Peace Club Advisor

MEP 3.8.16 Arena Union 7th & 8th grade
Thank you so much for the amazing program that you provided for our students. Everyone had such a fantastic time. It was such a hands on experience that really gave students an opportunity to use some of their knowledge in the field. They loved using the notebooks to write down data. We talk about collecting data frequently in science class, and they do this for their science projects, but this was an opportunity to see how scientists can do this in the field. They absolutely LOVED the atmosphere in which you presented the inside lessons. They felt more involved in the presentation/slideshow and loved the community feeling and layout of the room.

Thank you so much for being flexible and working with us trying to navigate around mother nature. We were disappointed to have to cancel the first day and overnight portion of the trip, but were thrilled with how much you fit into the second day for us.

We are going to plan another tide pooling field trip soon and I cannot wait to see the amount of information they have retained.

We would gladly recommend this program to any school looking to inform students about marine mammals, the impact of humans on our local ecosystem, the historical significance of Fort Ross, coastal invertebrates and a general understanding of this unique, and culturally and historically rich place in which we live. Again, thank you Sondra, Charon, and Hank!
Cristin Allen
7th & 8th Grade Teacher

Student Testimonials from Past Marine Ecology Programs – October 2014

“I enjoy the walks, hearing the seashore, and the wildlife we were able to see.” – Renzo

“I think it was very interesting the way the Russians influence both the history and ecology of Northern California.” – Spencer

“Fort Ross has so far been amazing. Fresh air, cool breeze, and not a single car or skyscraper in sight. The most memorable moment of all was climbing up onto a stony hill and standing at the very top looking out towards the sunset. The wind was blowing, the sun was going behind the horizon, and the sky was tainted in different shades of orange, blue and green hues.” – Andy Zhang

“The scenery – it’s unlike all the things I see daily. It’s nice to have a break. Physically, I am exhausted. I am ready to pass out. But it’s fun. I met new people.” – Sophia

“I thought the fur pelts and the cannons were the coolest part.”- Isiah H

“This trip taught me that people, even faced with different forms of living, can still come together in harmony.” – Josh

“This trip taught me to look deeper than just the surface. It’s like the ocean … beneath lies a whole universe.” – Brianna

“When walking along the cliffs looking for seals and wildlife, I actually felt like I didn’t have to think about the crazy city. The question on my mind, is: ‘what is the difference between Russian Orthodox and Lutherian Orthodox? They seem to both have beautiful things to them and I would love to learn more. Tomorrow is more time to learn and its also a weekend; in a way it’s like I’m not skipping school and I just have living homework.” – Luis A.

“Instead of sitting in a crowded room and being given a sheet to do, we get to move around and be outside.” – Jordan Marble

“I believe that outdoor classes are much better than indoor classes because it gives us a constant change of scenery.” – Josue P.

“The thing I wished I could have learned more about is the Kashia. The Native American Culture is beautiful to read about.”- Luis A.

“I would love to spend more time out here and learn about the world and how it works outside of the city and my daily life.” – Josh C.

“Learning outside is way better than learning inside because when you are outside, you get a better perspective on the setting because you actually get to experience nature as a whole.” – Czarina A

Photos by Paul C. Miller and Sondra Hunter