Education and Outreach

The Morro Bay estuary is a national and state treasure; its heath affects our health and the vibrancy of our community and economy. The Morro Bay National Estuary Program helps residents and visitors learn how to keep Morro Bay clean and healthy through community outreach as well as formal and informal education efforts. Well-informed public participation combined with the best science available is essential for effectively preserving the Morro Bay estuary.

Measureable Results
  • Establishment of a free, public Nature Center focused on the Morro Bay estuary and watershed that welcomes more than 25,000 visitors each year.
  • Ongoing formal education programs that reach more than 575 students each year and involve students at all schools within the Morro Bay watershed.
  • Ongoing distribution of dozens of different educational reports, brochures, pamphlets, and other publications focused on the Morro Bay estuary, including 20,000 Morro Bay Watershed Visitor Maps with environmental stewardship information.
  • Twelve years of successful management of the Mutts for the Bay Program, which provides more than 350,000 free dog waste pickup bags through over 30 dispensers across the watershed each year. (That’s more than 4 million bags since 2008!) Each dispenser includes educational messaging that shows thousands of  residents and visitors the environmental and health benefits of picking up after our pets.

Morro Bay Estuary Nature Center

Measureable Results
  • Established the brick-and-mortar Morro Bay Estuary Nature Center, which has served and educated more than 25,000 people each year since 2004.
  • Created a virtual nature center that has received an average of 34,000 page views each year since 2017.
  • Development of a Upstream Rush, an educational video game focused on challenges that steelhead trout face as they travel upstream to spawn in the Morro Bay watershed.

The Morro Bay Estuary Nature Center opened in 2004 thanks to the generous contributions of grantors, donors, and partner organizations. The center is free, open seven days a week, and includes interactive exhibits that focus on estuary ecology, native wildlife, nonpoint-source pollution, and environmental stewardship. The Nature Center welcomes more than 25,000 people each year.

In 2017, the Estuary Program established a virtual nature center that includes videos, a steelhead-themed video game, a water-usage calculator, and other interactive materials. This material is available in the physical nature center on a touchscreen kiosk and online, so students from all over the world can access it from school or home. The virtual nature center was funded by a generous grant from the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust.

Educating Students From Kindergarten Through Graduate School

Measureable Results
  • Science labs conducted by Estuary Program staff each semester for all Cuesta College Marine Science courses.
  • Quarterly lectures and field trips given by Estuary Program staff for students in California Polytechnic University planning, ecology, and environmental science courses and clubs.
  • Microplastic monitoring conducted with all freshman biology students and Environmental Science students three times per school year, reaching about 200 students each year.

The Morro Bay National Estuary Program makes it a priority to educate students of all ages, from kindergartners through highly trained graduate students who are starting careers in the sciences, engineering, or the  environmental planning and management fields.

Formal education programs in kindergarten through twelfth grades include conducting watershed models for students in classrooms and in our Nature Center, guiding students through the process of monitoring local beaches for microplastics, and other in-class lectures and demonstrations as requested. In post-secondary settings that include undergraduate, graduate, and professional certification programs, Estuary Program staff conduct guest lectures and lead students in estuary-science focused labs. Our program also invites professors and students to partner on monitoring work, research in the field, and literature studies.

Creating Partnerships to Extend Our Impact

Measureable Results
  • Partnered with the Central Coast Aquarium since 2017 to conduct Morro Bay Floating Lab field trips that reach an average of 340 students each year with hands-on science education in the field.
  • Participated in training each cohort of SeaLife Stewards since 2016, an average of 30 people each year who pass on messaging to more than 2,500 people each summer.
  • Provided technical expertise, curriculum ideas, and educational materials to staff at Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School to serve more than 8,000 students annually from 18 school districts in six counties throughout central California and beyond.

By collaborating with partner organizations, the Morro Bay National Estuary Program reaches a wider audience with important messages about the estuary’s health and stewardship. The Estuary Program works with a wide variety of partners on projects that span both organizations’ goals, leverage their resources, and complement their skill sets.

Ongoing partnerships include educational resource and curriculum sharing with Interpreters from California State Parks’ San Luis Obispo Coast District, Morro Bay State Park Docents, the Central Coast Aquarium, SeaLife Stewards, Morro Coast Audubon Society, and staff at Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School. We have also been privileged to work with organizations such as the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunce Center and Camp KEEP on an as-needed basis.

Together, we reach more students with hands-on environmental science education, teach more visitors how to be good stewards of our bay while recreating, and encourage residents and visitors to develop bay-friendly habits to preserve this special place.

Exploring Estuarine Science Through Presentations

Measureable Results
  • Establishment of the Morro Bay Science Explorations with the Estuary Program talk series in 2018. This series has:
    • Featured nine expert speakers each year.
    • Informed an average of fifty people at each of three annual events.
  • Presented to an average of forty Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival attendees each year since 2015, covering topics including the health of local and migratory bird populations, eelgrass restoration, how the watershed works, and climate change.

Sharing the latest research and stewardship information about the Morro Bay estuary is a primary concern for the Estuary Program. To help accomplish this goal, we regularly hold public discussions, lectures, and other science-focused events to keep the public informed about the health of the Morro Bay estuary and watershed.

In 2018, the Estuary Program established a new series of annual science talks called Morro Bay Science Explorations with the Estuary Program. This annual series includes three evening events, each of which features three expert speakers who discuss topics on a common theme that relates to the Morro Bay estuary. Past talks have focused on topics including the health of eelgrass in the bay, the potential effects of climate change, steelhead and beaver restoration, local and migratory bird populations, aquaculture, and Pismo clams.

Estuary Program staff also give public presentations at local interest-group meetings, other science talk series, and at conferences including the annual Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival.

Morro Bay National Estuary Program brings together citizens, local governments, non-profits, agencies, and landowners to protect and restore the Morro Bay estuary.

Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.