Fort Ross
Fort Ross Conservancy’s Marine Ecology Program

Fort Ross Conservancy’s Marine Ecology Program

Fort Ross Conservancy offers one-day or overnight Marine Ecology Programs (MEPs) for elementary, middle, high school, and undergraduate students.

Marine Ecology Programs

Situated on a pristine stretch of Sonoma County coastline, Fort Ross and Salt Point State parks boast abundant marine mammals, rocky intertidal zones, sandy beaches, and waters now protected by Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Fort Ross also has significant cultural history, with its historic buildings and exhibits telling the story of 19th century seafaring and fur trading. At Fort Ross we witness the human impact of resource exploitation and its subsequent intermittent recovery. This intersection of natural and cultural history helps to teach ocean stewardship and resource management through the long lens of history.

Overnights – Groups spending the night will be camping at one of the beautiful State Park campgrounds, or sleeping inside the buildings of the historic fort compound if available.


FRC’s Marine Ecology Program provides an experiential and exciting outdoor educational field trip for students, including:

  • Learning how to engage in hands-on marine mammal observation, identification, and survey,
  • Exploring the diverse and fragile intertidal zone and its beautiful life forms,
  • Keeping a field journal to record scientific data, thoughts, and sketches,
  • Studying current and historic ecological interconnections,
  • Discussing the importance of biodiversity and marine conservation,
  • Team building and collaborative learning in an outdoor classroom setting.

Marine Mammal Monitoring – Students learn about the different species of marine mammals along our coast and practice identifying them. After an introduction to citizen science and our monitoring methods, students survey our resident pinnipeds (harbor seals, California & Steller Sea Lions) using spotting scopes and binoculars to further hone their observation skills.

Rocky Intertidal Zone – Tidepooling provides hands-on exploration of the unique landscape and diverse species that live within the rocky intertidal zone. By immersing ourselves in this environment, we observe the balance between these small yet significant creatures and their habitat, and how this balance affects the whole intertidal zone, the large marine mammals, and our entire coastal ecosystem.

Cultural History, Biodiversity, & Conservation – We explore the rich, cultural history of Fort Ross. Visiting historic and re-created structures, we learn about the the diverse peoples who lived and worked here, including the Kashia Pomo, the Russians who established “Fort Ross,” and the skilled Alaska Native hunters. By examining the cultural history of Fort Ross we look at how human practices impact the environment and natural biodiversity. Through observations made during our activities in the field, we ask questions and discuss factors contributing to what we are witnessing, covering topics such as threatened and recovering populations and how interdependencies across species affect the wider marine food web.

Apply to MEP – Learn about programs costs and financial aid, and submit an application.

Fee Waivers Available! – Public lands and outdoor learning experiences should be available to all, irrespective of the cost, but we also know how critical it is to minimize the financial challenges that keep kids from taking such field trips. Thanks to the generous support from our donors we have created the FRC Education Fund to offer program fee waivers and/or transportation subsidies to schools that would otherwise be unable to participate and we welcome teachers of all schools to apply!


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 Song Hunter