Ways To Get Involved in Coastal and Ocean Stewardship
Our ocean needs YOU! It’s important to become involved in the work that marine resource and conservation organizations are doing to ensure healthy ocean ecosystems for current and future generations. The Volunteer and Ocean Stewardship Opportunities contains a select list of local non-profit organizations and government agencies that offer volunteer and outreach opportunities along California’s central coast. While this list is not all-inclusive, and it is not intended to be; it is representative of the many great opportunities for you to become involved.
Monterey Bay Sanctuary Advisory Council and Working Groups: The Monterey Bay
Sanctuary Advisory Council was established in March 1994 to ensure continued public
participation in the management of the sanctuary. Serving in a volunteer capacity, the Advisory
Council’s 20 voting members represent conservation, research, education, recreation, fishing,
tourism, diving, agriculture and public interests, as well as seven local, state and federal
governmental jurisdictions. The advisory council meets every other month in daytime public
sessions held in varying locations along the coast bordering the sanctuary. Four working
groups, dealing with matters related to research, education, conservation and business/tourism,
also support the Advisory Council. The working groups are composed of volunteer experts from
the appropriate fields of interest and meet monthly, or bi-monthly. For more information, contact
the Sanctuary Advisory Council Coordinator, Nicole Capps at (831) 647-4206 or via email at:
The Sanctuary's Team
OCEAN Program puts trained, knowledgeable naturalists on the water in kayaks to greet and
interact with fellow kayakers. The naturalists serve as docents for the marine sanctuary,
promote respectful wildlife viewing, and protect marine mammals from disturbance. Team
OCEAN has proven to be a successful program with thousands of contacts per year. Team
OCEAN volunteers can be found in Elkhorn Slough and along the kelp beds off Cannery Row in
Monterey. For more information contact Lisa Emanuelson at (831) 647-4227 or via email at
Bay Net is a shoreline docent program. Trained volunteers act as both on-site
interpreters and shoreline ambassadors for the Sanctuary. Given their field presence,
volunteers also serve as additional eyes and ears to help monitor natural and human activities.
For more information contact, Lisa Emanuelson at (831) 647-4227 or via email at
Beach COMBERS is a beach-monitoring program that uses trained volunteers to survey
beached marine birds and mammals at selected sections of beaches throughout the Monterey
Bay area. The program is a collaborative project between Moss Landing Marine Laboratories,
the Monterey Bay Sanctuary, and other state and research institutions including the California
Department of Fish and Wildlife and Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, with
the specific goal of using deposition of beach cast carcasses as an index of the health of the
sanctuary. For more information on Beach COMBERS, please contact Hannah Nevins, Project
Leader at (831) 771-4422 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network is a consortium of local
citizen groups monitoring the health of the watersheds flowing into the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.
Trained volunteers collect valuable water quality information that is used by resource agencies,
local governments, and community groups to protect and improve the health of local
watersheds. The Network also coordinates three annual regional monitoring events:
- First Flush (Fall) The first major storm event of the season, during which there is sheeting water on the roadways, is defined as First Flush. The water can be filled with pollutants that have accumulated on impervious surfaces over the dry summer months. First Flush volunteers are on-call to monitor storm drain outfall sites. The goal of the program is collect data that analyzes and characterizes the storm water run-off that flows into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
- Snapshot Day (Spring) On the first Saturday in May, hundreds of volunteers from San Mateo County to San Luis Obispo County monitor more than 100 sites during the annual Snapshot Day. This community event provides a one-day "snapshot" of the health of the ten major watersheds that flow into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
- Urban Watch (Summer-Fall) Teams of trained volunteers collect water samples and conduct basic field analysis from targeted storm drains during the dry weather months (June-October) in Capitola, Santa Cruz County, Monterey and Pacific Grove.
Ongoing results from these programs help identify pollution trends, guide upstream
investigations, develop targeted education programs, and build better management practices.
For information on upcoming volunteer training opportunities, please contact Lisa Emanuelson,
Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Monitoring Network Coordinator at (831) 647-4227 or via email
This Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center highlights the spectacular Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Overlooking the ocean, the Sanctuary Exploration Center is located in the heart of the Santa Cruz's famed beach area just steps away from the city's Municipal Wharf. The center features engaging interactive and multi-media exhibits to help visitors explore the sanctuary's remarkable marine environment, as well as their personal role in protecting this special underwater treasure. Docents interpret exhibits to the public, conduct guided tours, assist in daily operations and participate in events and programs.
The Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay is an
environmental and nature center cooperatively operated by the Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary and California State Parks. Located at beautiful and historic William R. Hearst
Memorial Beach in San Simeon, the Coastal Discovery Center offers information on natural and
cultural resources along the central California coast. The Discovery Center is open three days a
week and is staffed by docents. Docent activities include greeting visitors in the Coastal
Discovery Center, leading history walks along San Simeon Pier and participating in educational
programs for school groups. For more information, please contact the Monterey Bay Sanctuary
Southern Region Program Coordinator, Carolyn Skinder at (805) 927-2145 or via email at
- Volunteer Guides
Help visitors from around the world explore the wonders of Monterey Bay
and beyond, and share the mission to inspire conservation of the oceans. More than 900
volunteers guide visitors through aquarium exhibits, staff the information desk, and work behind
the scenes in husbandry operations, marketing, visitor programs and other areas. Anyone 18
years or older may volunteer on weekdays or weekends. To learn more about volunteer
opportunities at the Aquarium, please visit the website at:
- Project FishMap and Smart Seafood Choices
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch
program has long been the ‘go-to’ source for consumers and businesses looking for oceanfriendly
seafood. Project FishMap, a newly launched feature of the Seafood Watch iPhone app,
lets you tag more than one million restaurants and markets across the United States anytime
you find ocean-friendly seafood. An additional feature of the new app is the ability for users to
discover where other app users have found sustainable seafood nationwide.
California State Parks contains the largest and most diverse natural and cultural heritage
holdings of any state agency in the nation. State park units include underwater preserves,
reserves, and parks; redwood, rhododendron, and wildlife reserves; state beaches, recreation
areas, wilderness areas, and reservoirs; state historic parks, historic homes, Spanish era adobe
buildings, including museums, visitor centers, cultural reserves, and preserves; as well as
lighthouses, ghost towns, waterslides, conference centers, and off-highway vehicle parks. The
agency is responsible for almost one-third of California's scenic coastline, managing the state's
finest coastal wetlands, estuaries, beaches, and dune systems. State park docents are trained
volunteers who interpret the cultural, natural and recreational resources for park visitors. Park
units provide training programs where participants learn interpretation techniques, and specific
information about the natural and historical features of the park unit. Docent duties may include
hosting visitor centers, conducting nature walks and school program tours, and assisting with
State parks districts and cooperating associations with volunteer opportunities in the central
coast region listed in order from north to south include, but are not limited to, the following:
- California State Parks, San Mateo District: For general information about State Parks in
San Mateo County, please call the Sector office at (650) 726-8819.
To become involved with a cooperating association, please contact one of the following:
- Año Nuevo State Reserve: Every winter, over 5,000 Elephant seals, the largest
marine mammals to come ashore, return to Año Nuevo to give birth and mate along
the shoreline. During this time, docents lead guided walks through the rookery,
sharing this amazing experience with over 50,000 visitors from all over the world.
Docents also serve as roving naturalists in the spring, summer, and fall. The tenweek
training program is one of the most comprehensive within the California State
Parks system. For more information please contact the docent coordinator at (650)
879-2032 or via email at email@example.com
- Half Moon Bay State Beach Habitat Restoration: Park volunteers and restoration
specialists work to restore, protect, and preserve the coastal scrub community.
Please call (650) 726-8801 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The San Mateo County Natural History Association: The Association supports the
State Parks docent and volunteer programs in San Mateo County. Please send an
email to email@example.com
- California State Parks, Santa Cruz District: Docents are trained volunteers who interpret
the cultural, natural and recreational resources for park visitors. Docents host visitor centers,
conduct nature walks and school program tours, and assist with special events.
- California State Parks, Monterey District: A variety of volunteer positions support state
parks in the Monterey District. For information about opportunities, please call the Monterey
District Park office at (831) 649-2836.
Additional volunteer opportunities are available with one of the four park cooperating
associations listed below:
- Central Coast Lighthouse Keepers: Volunteers lead tours, operate the Visitors’
Center, help preserve and maintain Pt. Sur’s historic buildings, and they are an
integral part of Pt. Sur’s operations. For information call 649-7139 or send an email
- Point Lobos Foundation: A corps of over 100 docents interpret the natural history of
this crown jewel in the state parks system. Volunteers bring alive the cultural history
at Whaler’s Cabin and Whaling Station Museum. Docents lead public and school
nature walks, interact with visitors on trails and give visitors a close-up look at
animals through spotting scopes. For more information, please contact Melissa
Gobell, Docent Program Coordinator at (831) 625-1470 or email at:
- Monterey Dunes Natural History Association: The Association serves California State
Beaches between Monterey and the Pajaro River. Programs are dedicated to public
education, interpretation, and protection of coastal resources. For more information,
call 831-384-7695 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via email to
- Big Sur Natural History Association: This non-profit organization provides interpretive
and educational materials and activities for visitors to the Big Sur area State Parks
and the Los Padres National Forest. The association sponsors nature walks,
campfire talks, and interpretive displays. For information, write to BSNHA, PO Box
189, Big Sur CA 93920-0189.
- California State Parks of the San Luis Obispo Coast: Halfway between San Francisco
and Los Angeles along the central California coastline is a meeting of land and sea that is
an integral part of the California State Parks system. Beaches, waterfalls, natural and
cultural preserves are all part of the Central Coast State Parks. Volunteers in Parks (VIPs)
serve as camp hosts at campsites providing visitor information, staffing visitor centers and
museums, maintenance projects and general housekeeping.
- For volunteer opportunities at state parks in San Luis Obispo County, please visit the
website at: http://www.slostateparks.com/thingstodo/volunteer.asp.
- For general information about the parks of the San Luis Obispo Coast, please visit
website at: http://www.slostateparks.com/default.asp.
- Piedras Blancas Light Station: Piedras Blancas is located on California's central
coast, just north of San Simeon. The lighthouse was first lit on February 15, 1875,
and celebrates its 136th anniversary in 2011. Currently administered by the Bureau of
Land Management, the light station has been congressionally designated an
Outstanding Natural Area within the National Landscape Conservation System. An
army of volunteers dedicates numerous hours and effort to help restore and rebuild
the Light Station. For more information, please contact the Light Station manager at
(805) 927-2968; or contact volunteer coordinator Ken Hock at (661) 391-6000; email
Elkhorn Slough (pronounced "slew") harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California
outside of San Francisco Bay. This ecological treasure at the center of the Monterey Bay
coastline provides much-needed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals,
including more than 340 species of birds. More than 150 volunteers assist with the reserve's
education and research programs, supporting a mission to ensure the perpetual health of the
ecosystems in the Elkhorn Slough and surrounding watershed.
For more information call Amanda Ankenbrandt, Volunteer Coordinator (831) 728-2822 ext. 303
or via email at email@example.com.
The American Cetacean Society engages in educational, conservational, and scientific pursuits
for the purpose of expanding knowledge of whales, dolphins, porpoises, and related creatures.
Services offered by the Monterey Bay Chapter include monthly meetings open to the public,
featuring presentations about whales, dolphins and related aspects of the marine environment.
The mission of the Big Sur Land Trust is to conserve the significant lands and waters of
California’s Central Coast for all generations. Working with private and public partners, The Big
Sur Land Trust has successfully conserved more than 30,000 acres of shoreline, wildlife habitat,
streams, forests, grasslands, rangelands and riparian corridors, through projects such as the
Carmel River Parkway, habitat restoration at Martin Dunes, and the purchase of Palo Colorado
Canyon. Big Sur Land Trust volunteers lead hikes, share interpretive information, remove
invasive weeds, plant native plants, and actively care for the land that BSLT has helped protect
for 28 years. The Carmel River Parkway is one of the many projects of the BSLT that provides
valuable volunteer opportunities. For more information call (831) 625-5523.
Coastal Cleanup Day: Coastal Cleanup Day is the highlight of the California Coastal
Commission's year-round Adopt-A-Beach program and takes place every year on the third
Saturday of September, from 9 a.m. to Noon. Coastal Cleanup Day is a great way for families,
students, service groups, and neighbors to join together, take care of our fragile marine
environment, show community support for our shared natural resources, learn about the
impacts of marine debris and how we can prevent them, and have fun! Coastal Cleanup Day is
also the kick-off event for Coastweeks—three weeks of coastal and water-related events for the
Since the program started in 1985, over 800,000 Californians have removed more than 15
million pounds of debris from our state's shorelines and coast. When combined with the
International Coastal Cleanup, organized by The Ocean Conservancy and taking place on the
same day, California Coastal Cleanup Day becomes part of one of the largest volunteer events
of the year. For more information, contact us at (800) COAST-4U or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The organization promotes programs that conserve the Carmel River, educates about matters
relating to the river, and to acts as a catalyst for co-operative efforts within the watershed and
the Central coast region. For more information, please email Clive Sanders at
The Coastal Watershed Council strives to protect coastal watersheds through monitoring,
research, education and stewardship, and has established volunteer water quality monitoring
programs in a number of watersheds throughout the Monterey Bay region. For more information
call (831) 464-9200 or email email@example.com.
Friends of the Elephant Seal, located in Cambria, California, is a non-profit organization
dedicated to educating the public about elephant seals and other marine life. Docents are
stationed at a vista point overlooking the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, just off
Highway 1 seven miles north of San Simeon. Volunteers learn about elephant seals and other
marine life and have an opportunity to talk with visitors from all over the country and the world.
For more information on volunteer programs call (805) 924-1628.
The mission of the Marine Life Studies is to protect marine life and preserve the health and
beauty of the oceans now and for the future through education, research and stewardship
programs. Marine Life Studies programs include outreach programs in the schools, the Junior
Research Scientist Program, and educational presentations on marine life entanglement, manmade
disasters, pollution, and hazards. The group also specializes in humpback whale fluke
identification and Killer Whale and dolphin markings and fluke identification. For more
information about volunteering, please contact Peggy Stap at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Monterey Coastkeeper was formed to address water quality issues through policy advocacy
and legal tools designed to ensure that the interests of development, industry and urban activity
are kept in-line with environmental needs. Monterey Coastkeeper's major programs include
monitoring urban and agricultural runoff and marine protected area stewardship. For more
information call; (831) 646-8839.
Ocean Conservancy works on a national and international scale to promote practical policies
that protect the ocean. Priorities include marine spatial planning, marine debris, sustainable
fisheries, marine protected areas, the warming of the artic, and aquaculture. In all its work,
volunteerism and grassroots activism play a vital role in its efforts. One of the most compelling
and effective volunteer opportunities is Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup
event. Each year, millions of pounds of marine debris are collected and recorded at more than
6,000 sites all over the world on a single day. The California Coastal Commission’s Annual
Coastal Cleanup event is a part of this international effort, making it the largest volunteer effort
for the ocean and waterways in the world.
Volunteers play a critical part in accomplishing the Museum's mission to inspire discovery,
wonder, and stewardship of our natural world. There are numerous positions available, including
regular shifts interpreting the museum, staffing the gift shop, serving as a docent in the Monarch
butterfly grove, taking care of the museum gardens, or being on call for special projects and
events. Whatever your interests, the museum needs you! For more information, please call
(831) 648-5716, ext.17, email: email@example.com.
Return of the Natives is a community and school-based environmental education program
dedicated to involving students (Kindergarten through University) in habitat restoration and
service learning projects in the schoolyard and the community. Its environmental goal is to
protect the waters of the Monterey Bay through restoration of the waterways and the lands
draining in the Bay. Area educators may earn 10 CEU credits with Return of the Natives through
a collaborative program with California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and Monterey
Bay area environmental and science organizations. For more information, please contact the
Community Outreach Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save Our Shores’ mission is caring for the marine environment through ocean awareness,
advocacy, and citizen action. Save Our Shores offers a variety of volunteer opportunities
including the Sanctuary Stewards-a dynamic citizen action program, the Dockwalkers’ clean
boating program, regular beach cleanup events and storm drain stenciling projects. For more
information call the volunteer coordinator at (831) 462-5660 ext. #3 or via email at:
The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is committed to educating about the role scientific
research plays in understanding and conserving the world’s oceans. Volunteers contribute daily,
from cleaning tanks to leading tours, and from staffing the bookstore to assisting with school
programs. Please contact Lucia MacLean at (831) 459-3854 or via email at
The Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots, non-profit, environmental organization that works to
protect our ocean, waves, and beaches. Founded in 1984, Surfrider Foundation's most
important coastal environmental work is carried out by volunteers in its 60 chapters located
along the East, West, Gulf, Puerto Rican, and Hawaiian coasts. In central California, Surfrider
volunteers participate in coastal clean up activities, organize events, write newsletter articles,
and sample water quality. To become involved in your local chapter visit:
The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit hospital dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and
research of ill and injured marine mammals. Each year, volunteers and staff rescue hundreds of
California sea lions, elephant seals, porpoises, and other marine mammals. Volunteers are
always needed for animal assessment, rescue, triage, transport, and equipment/site/vehicle
maintenance. Additionally, volunteers assist with public outreach and education programs. To
volunteer, contact the operations center in your area:
The Otter Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the rapid recovery of the
California sea otter—an indicator of near shore ocean health—by facilitating research and
communicating research results to the general public and policy makers. Their web-based
action center highlights critical sea otter and ocean conservation issues and ways the public can
help. For more information call 831-646-8837.
Reef Check California aims to build a network of informed and involved citizens who support the sustainable use and conservation of our nearshore marine resources. To accomplish this, volunteers are trained to carry out surveys of nearshore reefs providing data on the status of key indicator species.
Join Our Team - Reef Check California
Are you a diver? Become a Reef Check volunteer to explore and conserve California's reefs! Visit reefcheck.org for details.
In early 2011, Heal the Bay launched a citizen science program called MPA Watch. By walking along beaches in Malibu and Palos Verdes surveying ocean users, volunteers combine their love of the beach and ocean while collecting valuable scientific data.
MPA Watch is a citizen science monitoring program that trains volunteers to observe and collect data about coastal and marine resource use inside and outside MPAs. Volunteers use standardized protocols to collect relevant, scientifically rigorous, and broadly accessible data.Data are meant to inform the management, enforcement, and science of California's marine protected areas, and allow us to track how the public uses coastal areas.