Since 2003, Save The Whales has been taking students out in the natural environment to observe  their local watershed and learn how to observe, take data and use scientific intstruments. This nine-month hands-on opportunity allows students to see how human activities on land caused by pollution can enter creeks and streams and flow to the ocean.

Save The Whales focuses on after-school programs in East Salinas, California as it is one of the highest crime areas in Central California. Offering positive opportunities for students keeps them engaged and allows them to see how they can make a difference in their community.

Urban runoff is considered the largest source of ocean pollution. It is caused by pollutants such as: motor oil, antifreeze, pesticides, fertilizers, pet waste, litter, and household chemicals that are dumped or washed into storm drains. Storm drains flow to creeks, rivers, streams and ultimately the ocean.

Students end each field experience by collecting trash from creeks and streets to prevent trash from entering the creek which protects animals from getting caught in plastic six-pac rings or choking on plastic bags. Save The Whales hope these simple actions and the memorable nine-month program will carry throughout the students life.

Picking Up Trash

Students teach others in their community by stenciling storm drains to teach others the importance of  not dumping into the storm drains. The simple message in English and Spanish says “No dumping flows to bay.”


On one occasion students designed their own unique creek feet stencils of local wildlife that lives by the creek. This activity was led by a partner organization Return of the Natives that works to restore native plant habitats. Students proudly stenciled the animal footprints along the recreational trail leading to their monitoring site.

Creek Feet

The program mimics the data the adult volunteer groups in Monterey County gather under the leadership of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Citizen Water Monitoring Network. Click Here to view and learn more about the watersheds flowing into the Sanctuary. Working closely with the Sanctuary, Save The Whales decided elementary school students can collect data as well as adults and make astute observations. The program has been so successful that we have expanded each year to include more students and provide an after-school program to accommodate additional students.

The elementary school students in the cities of East Salinas and Monterey, Monterey County, California measure the following water quality parameters in their local creeks. The United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water Monitoring Quality Chapter 5 provides nationally-accepted protocols for common water quality measurements.

Life In A Cup


Dissolved Oxygen

Dissolved Oxygen or DO is the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water. It is important in aquatic systems because most aquatic organisms need oxygen to survive and grow. For cold water environments, the water quality objective requires that the DO concentration not fall below 6 to 8 mg/L.

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pH is a measure of how acidic or basic the water is. It is important to document because:

  • It affects chemical reactions in aquatic organisms.
  • In extreme conditions it can cause physical damage to organisms.
  • It may increase the toxicity of certain chemicals.
  • For the Central Coast Region, pH shall not be depressed below 7 or raised above 8.5.

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Conductivity is the ability of water to conduct an electrical current. It varies with water source: ground water, agriculture fields, municipal waste water, rainfall, etc. Therefore, it can indicate groundwater seepage or a sewage leak.

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Temperature is a measure of the average energy of water molecules. It is one of the most important water quality parameters because it affects water chemistry and the functions of aquatic organisms. It influences:

  • The amount of oxygen that can be dissolved in the water.
  • Rate of photosynthesis by algae and aquatic plants
  • Metabolic rates of organisms
  • Sensitivity of organisms to pollutants, parasites and disease.
  • Timing of reproduction and migration of aquatic organisms.

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Turbidity is a measure of the amount of suspended particles in the water. It is important to measure because:

  • The particles can absorb heat and or diffuse light thereby affecting photosynthesis capabilities of aquatic plants.
  • Turbidity is an indicator of erosion. High sediment loading can clog the gills of fish and also bury their eggs.
  •  The particles provide a conduit for pathogens, pollutants and nutrients.
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