Contribution starting at $2,550
Exported from Streamline App (
7 days (avg. $364 a day) Includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs
Ocean Health

Conserving Marine Life Along Catalina's Coast

Two Harbors, Catalina Island, California, United States Map it
Lead Scientist
Activity Level
Single Rooms possible
Couples Rooms possible
Research Station
Chef-prepared meals
Special diets accommodated
heidelberg carousel catalina island
dolphin off catalina island - heidelberg
heidelberg volunteers
wildlife on catalina island
heidelberg volunteers catalina island
catalina coast
catalina coast
heidelberg carousel catalina island
dolphin off catalina island - heidelberg
heidelberg volunteers
wildlife on catalina island
heidelberg volunteers catalina island
catalina coast
catalina coast

Climate change and human activities are impacting key marine life, water conditions, and more along Catalina’s coast. Help scientists collect urgently needed data to help manage this critical habitat.

heidelburg intro photo - on the dock

Catalina Island, located just 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, and surrounded by some of the most vibrant kelp forest habitats in the world. This region is also home to multiple Areas of Special Biological Significance and seven Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which are regions designed to safeguard marine animals, plants, and their habitats by limiting human activities such as fishing or boating.

Catalina is sometimes referred to as a ‘living laboratory.’ Despite its close proximity to Los Angeles, a major urban landscape, the island is relatively remote and significant efforts have been made to protect its coastal waters. It is therefore an ideal region to study not only the effects of MPAs on the health of marine ecosystems, but how global threats, such as climate change, are impacting these waters.

Join scientists on this picturesque island and help to monitor the health of a unique coastal habitat. Record the abundance of marine mammals such as California sea lions, gray whales, and common dolphins; collect water samples; survey the inhabitants of the intertidal zone; and observe the ways in which humans use this delicate habitat. Contribute to Pacific coast datasets and help to conserve a valuable marine ecosystem.


A Typical Itinerary

  • DAY 1   Meet, travel to field site, observe marine mammals en route
  • DAYS 2-6   Survey Marine Protected Areas, observe marine mammals, conduct intertidal surveys
  • DAY 7   Departure


When you arrive, the researchers will provide you with information on studying Catalina’s marine ecosystems. Field work will begin on Day 2, where you will:
surveying marine protected areas and intertidal habitat
Survey Marine Protected Areas and intertidal habitat

You’ll walk along shoreline, cliffs, and beach roads to monitor human activities in Marine Protected Areas. You will measure and record rocky intertidal species and their abundance.

observing marine mammals
Observe marine mammals

You will kayak along Catalina’s coast to observe, survey, and photograph marine mammals, such as gray whales and dolphins.

collecting water samples
Collect water samples

To determine the impacts of harmful algal blooms, you will perform plankton tows and use microscopes to determine phytoplankton and algae species present in your water samples.

Field conditions and research needs can lead to changes in the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.


3 Reviews on this Expedition

If you have been on this expedition, others considering attending would love to hear about your experience.
Genevieve Steffen | November 13, 2017
This Expedition far exceeded my expectations! From the beautiful ride on the ferry to arriving to a warm welcome on the island. Vivian and Lorraine were so knowledgeable about the research and made it interesting for us to learn. The hands on experience working on the intertidal project, collecting water samples for lab studies, kayaking, and lecture from Dr. Heidelberg made this an experience to remember. Our housing accommodations were excellent and our meals were great. Awesome overall experience!
Emily Mawbey | October 27, 2017
This expedition initially interested me based on its location. Having never been to California but knowing that it is home to a wide array of marine wildlife, I was intrigued. After arriving at the rendezvous point, we were given a run down of the whole expedition and a guide to any marine mammals we may see on the boat ride over to Catalina. On arrival we were given a tour of the research centre, including areas where we would be working, but other areas, such as the greenhouse containing the aquaponic systems. The next few days were packed full of various activities including the collection of water samples, using a plankton tow. These samples were then analysed using dissection and compound microscopes, revealing a wonderful world of microscopic organisms, in shapes that you could only imagine. We also took part in the MPA watch, consisting of walking along the coastline in search of any boast that were violating the rules for that particular protected area. These walks also allowed us to see some more of the island and some of the beautiful landscape it had to offer. We also took part in some intertidal work, which I always knew as 'rockpooling'. Here we were on the look out for particular species of abalone and bat stars; as well as using quadrats within a specified transect to quantify various molluscs and rock weed. During this was where I found the tiniest Chiton at just 4mm, a few of us were rather excited by this, I blame the sun. We also went on two kayaking trips, where we were fortunate enough to get close to a group of sealions and see a couple of harbor seals. This is certainly an experience to wont be forgotten, having taken part in some vital research, experiencing some beautiful scenery and meeting some incredible people.
Dianne Collette | September 10, 2017
Last month, I wrote about getting ready to travel to Catalina Island with my granddaughter, Alyssa, to participate in an Earthwatch project as “citizen scientists”. I said we would be “beach-combing and counting stuff”. That is a fairly accurate general description of what we did during our week of research and data collection. We participated in four data collection activities. • We surveyed human activity within a Marine Protected Area (MPA). • We looked for and recorded marine mammals in and around the MPA. • We gathered data on the presence or absence of specified sea life—mostly snails, barnacles and algae—along the shore and in tide pools. • We microscopically examined sea water for the presence of a variety of plankton. What kind of vacation is that for a vintage citizen and a fashionista teen? The best kind! When else can you call poking around in tide pools, hiking to hill-tops to view the ocean, kayaking through kelp beds looking for seal noses and viewing the tiny critters that occupy a tablespoon of sea water, “work”? And the “pay” for the work? How about snorkeling—to see what you are contributing to protect. How about night snorkeling—a first for me. And I didn’t even know it was on my Bucket List until I did it. The evening before our night snorkel we had a presentation about the research being done on horned sharks. These are small, filter-feeding sharks most easily located at night. Researcher, Emily, was with us on our night snorkel. But Alyssa was the one who found the horned shark! It was a little guy—less than two feet long. Emily caught and held it so we could all see it up close. Another unofficial research activity for Alyssa was evening fox-hunting for the endemic little foxes that inhabit the island and are so habituated to humans that they invade the dorms at night and leave piles of evidence of their presence in the hall. While I was doing some research on Uber in the computer lab, Alyssa and Laura, another team member, were stealthily trailing a fox around the campus. When I came back to the dorm, they gave me silent hand signals to be quiet and look where they were pointing. Yep, a fox the size of a large cat! Speaking of Uber… Although the Earthwatch briefing mentions getting from the airport to the rendezvous and back by taxi, Uber is by far the better financial option. It was well worth the frustration of my first-time use of the app. on my phone and the fee for twice canceling an immediate ride before we figured out how to use the new schedule-ahead function. Thank goodness for tech-competent granddaughters. Another competency I learned my granddaughter has is using a microscope. I am highly microscope-challenged; Alyssa is great at it. Maybe its young eyes? Fortunately, the lab is equipped with a microscope that is attached to a camera which projects what is being viewed onto a flat-screen TV. That way team leader Lorraine could show team members Nancy and I what Alyssa and Laura were finding on their own. I always find something to learn and something to enjoy about my Earthwatch project experiences. On this project, what I learned and enjoyed the most was not the science or the location or the people. It was experiencing the bitter-sweet joy of seeing my “baby” granddaughter interacting as a peer and contributing as a team member with environmental science-minded adults--and having fun doing it.

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