WILDCOAST’s Explore My Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) project, more than 200 students annually visit one or more of San Diego County’s eleven MPAs to see science in action and have the opportunity to become scientists themselves. The students collect data that is contributed to ongoing statewide ecological and public health monitoring programs for the California coast.
WILDCOAST’s Explore My MPAs project creates integrated education, recreation, and stewardship opportunities for schools and youth programs. Participants meet researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, collect real scientific data on the human use of coastal and marine resources in Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve (SMR), and take a guided kayak tour to see garibaldi, leopard sharks, dolphins, giant kelp, California sea lions, and other wildlife which benefit from the protection offered by MPAs. Other experiences include “floating laboratories” while aboard local commercial fishing vessels in South La Jolla SMR, where students collect plankton samples to send to the California Department of Public Health, and analyze water quality and climate change data. They also use an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and document species present in the MPA.
One of the project’s participants, a Mar Vista High School student, commented, “I love that as an everyday person I can do science and help save the ocean, It’s a bonus that we get to have so much fun while doing it!”
Research suggests that students who participate in environmental and outdoor education opportunities, like WILDCOAST’s Explore My MPAs project, perform better in school, improve life-building skills such as confidence, autonomy, and leadership, and show a higher degree of civic engagement and positive environmental behaviors.
For some students the impact is even more profound. Participants from underserved communities often face inequitable barriers to accessing their green and blue spaces. Fo many students, a trip with WILDCOAST is only time they have ever visited the beach or been on a boat.
WILDCOAST’s Explore My MPAs project is also an opportunity to connect with ancestral lands. Matlahuayl SMR protects a submerged Kumeyaay village that may have been inhabited for at least 10,000 years before the Kumeyaay people were removed from the area.
“MPAs are important because our ancestors lived 100 feet away from the shore and taking our artifacts and things from our village will disrupt the peace that is at the village. So protecting the artifacts and animals is not only good for the environment but also honoring our ancestors,” remarked student from the Kumeyaay that joined the project through WILDCOAST’s partner, Native Like Water.