Exploring the Giant Kelp Forest of Point Lobos, Monterey MPA Collaborative

May 29 2018

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a "crown jewel" of the California State Park system offers distance learning to K-12 students through the Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS) programs. Live interactive videoconferences are delivered from a kayak to classrooms focusing on the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of the giant kelp forest ecosystem. The underwater ROV brings the program to another level. Students witness directly the wildlife that depends upon this hidden underwater habitat.

May 29 2018

Did you know that the National Geographic Society is currently offering Explorers a variety of funding opportunities in the fields of conservation, education, research, storytelling, and technology? To learn more and apply for a grant click here.
If you're not interested in applying for a grant, click continue below
Supported by:
Mission Underway

There's been trouble trying to attach video to this, so here's the link, until we get it figured out: https://youtu.be/GYWEvaYG30I

The Whalers Cove Explorer goes on a field trip to the Monterey Harbor. Helping our friends at Monterey State Historic Park with their new whaling history/ocean science program, we stationed ourselves on the Chubasco at Discovery Whale Watch to do a trial run of this fledgling program. Conditions were too windy to leave the harbor, so this footage is taken from the docked boat. The sandy harbor bottom in contrast to the rocky substrate of the kelp forest is apparent here, hence the different array of life that might inhabit each place. We caught sight of a sea anemone, various pieces of seaweeds and kelp, as well as curious holes in the sandy bottom, perhaps from clams. The ROV demonstration will be one of the stations that students will participate in on this sea-going field trip. We are looking forward to assisting this program from MSHP as it begins its inaugural year. The ROV has just opened the lid on discovery for so many of us, looking into the ocean is always amazing!

Get ready for another session with the Whalers Cove Explorer! We're underwater at the east end of Whalers Cove, near the rock where the black oystercatchers nest and just below a Monterey cypress-lined trail to Coal Chute Point. Visibility is terrible, but we still get a glimpse of a harbor seal and various seaweeds, kelps, and lots of coralline algae. A fish shows up, any help in ID would be great. Along with navigating ROV's, I am trying to strengthen my fish ID skills, as well! Thanks for taking a look at some of the life here at Point Lobos!

A dive down to the bottom of Whalers Cove with the Trident ROV Whalers Cove Explorer. We are about 40 ft/12 m deep at the mouth of the Cove exploring the life here. What I think stands out is the abundance of purple sea urchins at this spot in the forest. What seems to be lacking in this immediate area is giant kelp. The kelp we are seeing waving along the ocean floor is walking kelp (Pterygophora), a classic understory kelp in the Pacific Coast kelp forest. Keep you eyes open for all kinds of life, especially sea stars! (If you slow down the film you'll be able to spot quite a number of them). These predators can help keep the urchin population in check! Also watch for sea snails, various fish, and something called coralline algae. This purplish-pink organism can be seen growing in two forms: encrusting and branched. You can easily tell the difference between this odd algae that once stumped scientists into thinking it was a coral! So much to experience and see under the surface of the ocean, we'll keep exploring! Until next time...

LOVE this narration. Awesome Daniel!

The fish at 1:41 was a female California Sheepshead fish, actually a species of wrasse.

Andrew Middleton, thank you for the ID! Much appreciated!

I loved watching this, Daniel! Great sea star spot, I missed it until you called it out

Getting more comfortable with the Whalers Cove Explorer and maneuvering throughout the tangling seaweed is a skill that I am acquiring. So let's take a 60 second dive just off Cannery Point into the shadowy world of giant kelp. This brief adventure reveals some of the life that depends on this marine forest and what we are protecting. So hold on, here we go...As we explore, we come across a yellow cigar-shaped fish known as the senorita darting through the water. Further on the blue rockfish appear. Almost like swimming rainbows, these fish are often seen in big numbers here at Point Lobos. As we check out the kelp, we can see vibrant algae-coated sea snails grazing on leaf blades, keeping the kelp growth in check. Now another spotting of blue rockfish moving along. Plankton is their primary diet which can be found in abundance in these waters. Now it is time to get back to the kayak!

The students I come in contact with are given the opportunity to check out this fascinating underwater world and also learn that it is up to us to make sure that these places always exist. Also happening soon, we will be doing a test-run to go underwater live into classrooms! Stay tuned!

Preparation Stage

The inaugural solo mission of the "Whalers Cove Explorer" (temporary name) leads us to a shallow area of the giant kelp forest at Whalers Cove. This can serve as documentation that there is plenty of room for growth in the operation of the ROV. No matter, it is great fun to see the kelp forest in such a unique way. Our next step is to have our underwater adventure go live during our PORTS/long-distance learning program. Anyone who has an insight into helping to make this happen, please reach out! Take a look at a one minute wild ride through the kelp forest frontier. More footage to come!


WOW! So awesome to see this!

So cool Daniel!

Our Trident ROV has arrived and we got a chance last week to test it out! While there is still much to learn, we got more comfortable with navigating the ROV (name coming!) through the kelp forest, no easy task! Dropping it into Whalers Cove, we were impressed with the clarity of image on the tablet/control panel and the world it opened up to us right below the ocean's surface. We are awaiting the arrival of a few more accessories to be able to incorporate the ROV into our K-12 long-distancing learning PORTS program and share Live!, the kelp forest of Point Lobos, one of the oldest marine reserves in the nation.

In the photo, we have our friend Alec Taylor from WWF-UK, Daniel Williford, CA State Park Interpreter at Point Lobos, and Leandra Lopez, Tech/Program Manager, MPA Collaborative Network, test-running the new technology. Alec was here to learn about what California is doing in the way of ocean protection, and this was one of his learning stops along the way. Leandra was on hand to lend her experience and a few needed parts to make this happen. The Point Lobos Kelp Forest PORTS Program is kicking off another school year, this time with the added bonus of an underwater camera!


Just off the phone with colleagues from our MPA Collaborative in Monterey County, discussing ideas and protocols we'd like to implement when the Trident ROV arrives. We are all excited for its arrival and to be able to share the amazing underwater world with students from California and beyond. Serendipity plays a huge role in what is discovered underwater and the following video attests to this. Taken a little while back with a GoPro HERO 4 attached to a PVC pipe and tethered to a cord while sitting on a kayak. It wasn't until I got back to land that I saw the footage I captured. Looking forward to what we'll discover with the Trident!

In anticipation of the arrival of the Trident, I captured some underwater footage of a sea nettle floating about along the outer edge of Whalers Cove. Taken with a GoPro HERO 5, I quickly captured this footage before a PORTS program. Then moments later, connected to a classroom with an iPad, the students got a to see this jelly as I held the tablet right above the ocean's surface. The students voices were full of excitement as they witnessed this curious and charismatic invertebrate in its natural and almost other-worldly home. Being able to stream live into classrooms from inside the giant kelp forest of Point Lobos will bring our program to another level!

Are they poisonous?

Yes, their tentacles are loaded with stinging cells for paralyzing its prey before eating it, and will leave a mean rash and lots of pain (though not known to be deadly) to any human handler. I saw at least 6 of these scattered about the outer cove.

World Oceans Day! At Point Lobos SNR, we celebrated with a couple of long-distance learning programs live from the Whalers Cove giant kelp forest. In all, about 100 students from San Diego County and New York got an opportunity to spend part of their day on a virtual mellow kayak adventure at Point Lobos. Check out this collage of some of the protected life found right here in the Point Lobos kelp forest.


California Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) make up the largest continuous network aimed at safeguarding our incredible and unique coastline. Check out this film made by our friends at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife highlighting not only the beauty of California's coastline, its iconic beaches and underwater wilderness, but what some people are doing to protect these coastal resources. Mid-way through the film, keep an eye out for the Point Lobos Kelp Forest PORTS Program, providing a peek into our fun and educational learning opportunity. This film provides the viewer insight into what MPA's are all about testifying to the interconnections of life and how the ocean plays a role in so many peoples lives.

This video is great! Not everyone understands what an MPA is or the various levels of protection they provide, so this really helps.

This video is great! Not everyone understands what an MPA is or the various levels of protection they provide, so this really helps.

Thanks for sharing!

Our Expedition has gone LIVE on the Open Explorer National Geographic site! Another step closer to exploring the giant kelp forest and raising ocean awareness to our next generation of stewards. I hope we receive many followers! Here is some footage from Whalers Cove at Point Lobos taken with a GoPro HERO 5 that provides a peek into what the giant kelp forest of Point Lobos holds. Imagine this scenario streaming live into classrooms worldwide!

This is VERY exciting - what a great topic and Interpreter!

Expedition Background

The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve PORTS Program started in Spring 2016. This live-streaming kayak-based program focuses on the giant kelp forest marine protected area of the Reserve and connects K12 classrooms from California and beyond to this mysterious and hidden world. Two years later, more that 600 programs reaching over 18,000 students have been delivered.

We have not yet received our Trident ROV but are ready to go. Check out our goals for the program!

Not only is the long-term program goal of live, underwater videoconferencing into classrooms being met, but several other goals will be met by the Point Lobos PORTS Project including:

• Interpreter at Point Lobos SMR will be able to do livestreaming broadcasts several social media platforms including Periscope and Facebook Live.

• Will provide relevant kelp forest ecosystem video for later use in the Monterey District for CA State Parks and MPA region.

• Could be used to monitor the health and diversity of the kelp forest ecosystem at Point Lobos SMR.

• Provide footage for promotional videos celebrating the oldest MPA in California and what almost 60 years of marine protection looks like.

• Will be used for “careers in state parks” events to celebrate the great things our resource scientists, lifeguards, and other do in protecting our MPAs.

We have all the elements to make this expedition an exciting success: a well-protected kelp forest ecosystem and access to students from California and the rest of the world! With oceans covering most of our planet, the more students learn and experience it, the more they can become a voice and advocate for it.


Contribute to this expedition

Email Address
Number card
Postal Code

Review Your Contribution

You have chosen to contribute to expedition.

Confirm your details:

  • Name:

  • Email:

  • Last 4 digits:

Click below to proceed.

Thank You for Your Contribution!

Fundraising Details:


Tell us how raising these funds will impact your expedition
You're almost there, we just need to know three more things:
Is any part or component of your project funded by the National Geographic Society or a National Geographic Society Grant?
Is anyone on your expedition/project team affiliated, either currently or in the past, with the National Geographic Society?
Did you apply for a grant/funding from the National Geographic Society for this project?
You have a goal to raise by for:
Is any part or component of your project funded by the National Geographic Society or a National Geographic Society Grant?
You’ve responded:
Is anyone on your expedition/project team affiliated, either currently or in the past, with the National Geographic Society?
You’ve responded:
Did you apply for a grant/funding from the National Geographic Society for this project?
You’ve responded:

Thank You

Fundraising is almost live!
Thank you for applying to collect contributions! We will review your request and follow up with next steps via email.
Feel free to email us if you have any questions. openexplorer@natgeo.com