Cambrian: Opinion

Docents' field trips reveal wonders of Central Coast

Sherad Pednekar of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaryâlooks for whales.
Sherad Pednekar of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaryâlooks for whales. Special to The Cambrian

The National Marine Sanctuaries system is a network of 14 marine protected areas encompassing more than 170,000 square miles with the mission of preserving the extraordinary scenic beauty, biodiversity, historical connections and economic productivity of these special places. 

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the National Marine Sanctuaries system, and they donate thousands of hours each year in the areas of research, monitoring, enforcement, education and management advisement. 

In addition, volunteers visit other national marine sanctuaries to expand their horizons, to share ideas and to realize the vital role they play as ambassadors to the national marine sanctuary system and ocean health.

Last July, staff and volunteers from the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary hosted a series of awe-inspiring field trips for eight Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) docents, including four from the Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon. 

Trips included a tour of the famous Elwha River Dam removal project, the Makah Cultural and Research Center, seabird-watching in Neah Bay, hikes in the majestic Olympic Coast and a chance to partake in OCNMS’s 20th anniversary. 

This past week, Olympic coast guests were shown the best of what MBNMS has to offer by staff and volunteers from Santa Cruz, Monterey and Cambria. Participants stayed with host families for the trip, which combined visits and presentations at various interpretive centers and aquariums with a hike in the redwoods, tidepooling, kayaking with sea otters and condor-watching along the Big Sur coast. 

Saving the best for last, the trip ended in San Simeon, where our Northwest visitors were awed by elephant seals and were then given a special tour of the Piedras Blancas Light Station, where whales, seals and sea otters magically appeared as if on cue. At the Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon, a presentation on MBNMS education and outreach programs was given, followed by reflections by OCNMS docents on how to apply lessons learned throughout the week to their facility.

Host families greatly enriched the overall exchange experience, and our Northwest guests enjoyed learning more about this special place from stays with PJ Webb, Bob Fountain, Leslie McGarry, Marj Sewell and Carolyn Skinder. Guests were also extremely impressed by the knowledge and hospitality shown by local volunteers from Friends of the Elephant Seal and the Piedras Blancas Light Station. 

Reflections at their journey’s end mirrored an amazing week made up of great weather and a coast full of people passionate about our planet and marine conservation. 

One volunteer wrote on an evaluation form: “By volunteering as a docent, I hope to inspire others to learn about and protect our wonderful sanctuaries. 

I will now look for ways to make my volunteering as useful as these colleagues in CA do.”

About volunteering

  • To find out more about the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and how you can become a volunteer, visit
  • Find out about volunteer programs for the National Marine Sanctuaries system at