The UC California Naturalist Program is designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California’s natural communities. The California Naturalist program uses a science curriculum, hands-on learning, problem-solving, citizen science, and community service to instill a deep appreciation for the natural communities of the state and to inspire individuals to become stewards of their local resources.
— California Naturalist website (http://calnat.ucanr.edu)


Here at The Coastal Institute, we run the UC California Naturalist Program as an immersive 7-day course.  Each program day runs from roughly 9am-8pm and involves a mix of field trips and lectures led by enthusiastic leaders with decades of experience in the field.  Food, lodging, materials, and field trip transportation are all included in the course fee. 

Each course kicks off with a welcome dinner on the first evening.  The next morning, we get started right after breakfast with our first speaker - from that point on, our days are packed full of field trips, projects, and lectures by local experts!  Students will have time throughout the week on their "capstone projects," which they will present to the class before graduating on the final program day.  The last day wraps up around 2pm with a graduation ceremony.

Each UC California Naturalist Course is a bit different.  The basic natural principles are the same, of course, but each course is tailored to the environment in which it is taught.  Here on the central coast, we have the fantastic opportunity to hear from local experts who work with marine mammals, California condors, rocky intertidal invertebrate species, Monterey pine forests, fungus, marine algae, and more!  To get a more complete picture of the different course topics, follow the link below to download the most recent syllabus.

iNaturalist Data Collection

You will learn how to use the smartphone/tablet app iNaturalist to collect and add your nature observations to the existing Camp Ocean Pines "project."  Please set up your own account on the iNaturalist website before you come to class.

Capstone Project

You will be given directions and time during the week to develop your own “Capstone Project” – a graduation requirement.

Citizen Science

You will become a "citizen scientist" by monitoring and recording scientific data along an established transect in in the San Simeon tidepools to add to a long term monitoring project called LiMPETS.

California Naturalist Handbook

Each student must purchase and read the California Naturalist Handbook before beginning the course.  Click here for a 30% off coupon.  (Please note: this book is not included in the course fee.)


On-site Lodging Option - $1,250 - includes all UC fees, instructors, materials, certificate, pin, camp use, field trip transportation, AND room/board at Camp Ocean Pines (7 nights lodging and 21 meals beginning with dinner the first night.)

Off-site Lodging Option - $1,150 - includes all UC fees, instructors, materials, certificate, pin, camp use, field trip transportation, AND 14 lunches and dinners.

Optional - if you would like to receive 4 lower division academic credits from the UC system, there is an additional charge of $80 (click here for info.) 


This course runs rain or shine!  Be prepared to bring a rain jacket and rubber boots if the forecast looks rainy.

There is a 50% deposit required upon registration with the remaining 50% due 30 days before first day of the course.

There are no refunds or transfers to future courses for cancellations made 30 days or less before the course date.  Cancellations prior to 30 days are subject to a $50 cancellation/transfer fee.


Chris Cameron - Retired Executive Director at Camp Ocean Pines

Chris has a life-long love for nature. Using wind-felled logs from the property and straw bale construction in the passive solar designed cabins, Chris has developed the reputation of Camp Ocean Pines as a place of natural beauty and sustainable development, a center for growth in students and adults alike. Through the years, Chris has led hundreds of kids and adults on wild adventures.  A resident on the central coast for 37 years, his hobbies include falconry, gardening, and traveling.  

John Menke - Professor at University of Arizona (Retired)


John Menke studied zoology at Drew University, marine biology at Texas A&M, and has a PhD in ecology from the University of Arizona.  As a resident biologist for the Peace Corps, he researched oysters in Chile, followed by marine ecology/research on coral reefs in Honduras as Fulbright lecturer.  While living in Arizona, John was an adjunct professor at Univ. of Arizona, later head of the science department at the Gregory School, and the President of Saguaro Forest Associates.  Now retired, John generously donates his time as an active docent at the Coastal Discovery Center, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and a naturalist at Camp Ocean Pines.

Richard Neidhardt - Board Member and Pinnacles Condor Fund Chair at Pinnacles Partnership

Richard grew up on a lake in South Carolina obsessed with everything that swims, crawls, hops, flies or grows.  He is a graduate of the Coastal Institute California Naturalist certification program, and has been a volunteer on the Pinnacles National Park condor crew for 7 years.  He has thousands of hours experience in tracking, observing and handling condors and has been leading condor viewing hikes in Pinnacles NP for the last 4 years.  In his youth, he was a backpacking guide and climbing instructor.

Faylla Chapman - Middle/High School Science Teacher (Retired)

Faylla Chapman is a long time resident of the central coast.  She has her MS from UC Irvine, with postgraduate studies at Hopkins Marine Station and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  Her specialty is marine microbiology, specifically the taxonomy, and physical/microbiological characteristics of marine algae.  She has extensive research and consulting experience and has chosen to use her talents to teach our youth as a middle and high school science teacher for over 20 years!  On the side, she repairs microscopes!  In her retirement, she is still very involved in education with our local CA State Park system. 

Dennis Sheridan - Naturalist and Photographer

Dennis Sheridan is a biologist with a special love for entomology, herpetology and mycology.  He specializes in photography and field monitoring for species of special concern, traveling to wild parts of the planet in search of exotic species. His photographs have been exhibited in many galleries and have appeared in many publications including National Geographic, Ranger Rick and on the cover of California Wild.  Dennis provides animal photo seminars to Brooks Institute and Lepp Institute and has produced educational video programs on entomology.  Animals from his own unique collection have appeared on television and films.

Alena Porte - Education and Outreach Manager at Ventana Wildlife Society

Alena Porte in an East coaster who has called California home for 16 years. She holds a B.S.E. in Recreation and Outdoor Education from State University of New York at Cortland, and has extensive experience working with children and young adults in special education, nature education and sports.  With Ventana Wildlife Society since 2004, her focus has been on providing meaningful outdoor education experiences for over 1,000 youth annually and sharing the nonprofit's work in the release and management of endangered California condors in the central coast region.  Her free time is spent playing and coaching rugby, traveling, and ballroom dancing.

Cara O'Brien - CA State Park Interpreter

Cara O’Brien has a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.  She has been creatively connecting visitors to park resources for the National Park Service and California State Parks for 23 years.  She delights in knowing that hundreds of Interpreters she has trained are engaging visitors with hands-on activities and giving lively Junior Ranger programs throughout California.  While at work or exploring above and below the ocean’s surface with her family, she is passionate about sharing California’s diverse natural wonders.  Cara enjoys being the Outreach/Education Coordinator for the Seabird Protection Network and a Co-Chair of the San Luis Obispo County Marine Protected Area Collaborative.

Carole Adams - Volunteer at Piedras Blancas

Carole has been involved in sharing her passion for the natural world for many years, volunteering with several agencies including California State Parks and the Bureau of Land Management.  As a volunteer at the Piedras Blancas Light Station for over 13 years, Carole spearheaded a very successful native plant restoration effort and was an active partner in developing public tours.  She believes that respect for wildlife, and all the natural world, comes from education.  Carole received the prestigious BLM Making a Difference Award in 2004.

Phil Adams - Friends of the Elephant Seals

Phil has been an active member of Friends of the Elephant Seal (FES) since 1998.  Together with his wife, he wrote a book on elephant seals that is widely used for general information and training purposes.  Phil has been involved in training FES docents for over 9 years.  He enjoys speaking to the public about elephant seals in the hopes of stimulating respectful viewing of these remarkable animals.  Phil also volunteers for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s TeamOCEAN and BeachCOMBER programs.  He has won several awards, including the National Marine Sanctuaries Outstanding Volunteer Service award in 2008.

Chris Dicus - Professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Dr. Dicus, our resident fire guru, comes to Cal Poly from down on the bayou in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  There, he was a Gilbert Research Fellow and received a Ph.D. in Forestry at Louisiana State University.  He received an M.S. in Forest Resources from Utah State University and a B.S. in Forestry and Wildlife from Louisiana Tech University.  Dr. Dicus sits on the Board of Directors of The Association for Fire Ecology and also the San Luis Obispo County FireSafe Council.  He is also is active in the Society of American Foresters and the International Association of Wildland Fire.  He enjoys spending time with his family and church activities, surfing, backpacking, and writing music.

Carolyn Skinder - Southern Region Program Coordinator for NOAA's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Ms. Skinder holds a MS in Education, Marine Science and Marine Policy. Her career in marine science as researcher, educator and in marine policy spans 30 years. Research has included cetacean and seabird studies, benthic habitat mapping as related to marine protected areas and monitoring and analyzing toxic algal blooms in Maine, Oregon and California. 

Dr. David Chipping - Professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Dr. David Chipping was born in Scotland in 1943.  He has a BA from Cambridge University (1965), came to the U.S. and earned a MS (1967) and PhD (1971) in Geology at Stanford University.  He has taught at U.C Davis (1968 -1971) and at Cal Poly State University (1971-present), where he is currently Emeritus Professor of Geology.  Dr. Chipping joined CNPS in 1987 as Conservation Chair and is currently Chapter President.  He has served on the Executive Council of CNPS and was Conservation Director from 1999-2005.  He serves on several state CNPS Committees and is Vice President of The Friends of the Carrizo Plain.

Miranda Canestro studied at UC Santa Cruz and worked as a researcher in marine natural products chemistry. As a specimen collector, she led expeditions to dive for tropical marine sponges throughout the Indo and South Pacific in search of new leads for cancer drugs. Miranda moved to UCSB Rancho Marino Reserve, Cambria in 2001 where she has been involved with research and education and expanded her interests to forest and grassland ecology. Miranda is a part time faculty member at Cuesta College where she teaches life science and human anatomy.

Royce Larson - UC Cooperative Extension

Royce Larson is the University of California Cooperative Extension Area Watershed / Natural Resource Advisor on the California Central Coast.  He has conducted educational and applied research programs in water quality, watershed function, water quality, grassland restoration, forage production and ecology, oak woodlands and other natural resource issues associated with rangelands since 1997.  Royce received his B.S. from Utah State University, and M.S. and Ph.D. from Oregon State University.  He is a certified rangeland manager with the California State Board of Forestry and the Society for Range Management.

Michele Roest - Founder of Science and Environmental Education Development (SEED)

Michele has been a science educator since 1987 and holds advanced degrees in biology and education.  She is passionate about nature interpretation as a means to stimulate engagement and offer meaning to the lives of others.  Michele's completed interpretive projects include nature center project management (Coastal Discovery Center, San Simeon Bay and the Sanctuary Exploration Center, Santa Cruz), interpretive signage plans (Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary), theme-based education programs (Threatened and Thriving), college-level biology and science education courses (Cuesta College and Cal Poly), and nature camp programs (Camp Ocean Pines).  Michele is a volunteer field trip leader for the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival and writes the Coast Lines column for the Cambrian newspaper. 

Dr. Sarah M. Bisbing - Professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Dr. Sarah Bisbing is a classically-trained forest ecologist, whose research focuses on the dynamic relationship between disturbance and altered climate on forest composition, structure, and function.  She is currently a professor of forest ecology & silviculture at Cal Poly.  Sarah earned her BS and MS in Forestry from the University of Montana (go, griz!) and her PhD in Ecology from Colorado State University.  Sarah’s teaching emphasizes field-based learning, and she is always up for a trip to a mountain forest ecosystem.  When not teaching and researching, you can her find running, biking, or climbing with the lab mascot, Dawkins the Dog.

Dean Thompson - Lead Naturalist at Kern Environmental Education Program (KEEP)

Dean Thompson is an outdoor science educator who was trained as a wildlife biologist as well as a classroom teacher.  He has years of field work experience with a variety of raptors in California, Arizona and Wyoming for The Peregrine Fund and the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Group.  He traveled to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji before finally settling down in SLO County.  For the last 31 years he has worked as an outdoor science school instructor at Camp KEEP in Montana de Oro State Park. Winner of the Howard Bell Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions in the area of outdoor education, he has led naturalist and storytelling workshops throughout the state, as well as natural history tours along the central coast.  He’s conducted Least Tern surveys, raised 2 children, coached basketball and managed to stay sane by spending as much time as possible outdoors.  Dean's skill as a professional storyteller makes his tours both entertaining and educational and he feels it is an honor to claim Naturalist as his job title.

Joseph Carro - Professor at Cuesta College

Joseph earned his Bachelor of Science from Loyola University of Los Angeles and Master of Business Administration from Pepperdine University of Los Angeles.  He has been a faculty member of Cuesta College since September 1998 and an instructor with S.L.O. High School Adult Education since September 2007.  Joseph is fluent in English, Italian, and Spanish and is an active astronomer with more than 20 publications on the measurement of double stars.


Sabrina Drill - Natural Resources Advisor for LA and Ventura Counties, Associate Director of the California Naturalist Program for UC Cooperative Extension

Sabrina Drill is the Natural Resources Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties and Associate Director of California Naturalist. Her current areas of research and extension include restoration of urban streams, terrestrial and aquatic invasive species, and public participation in science. Much of her recent work has focused on management of wildland tree pests, particularly invasive shot hole borers. She is the Southern California lead for the UC California Naturalist Program where she is especially interested in ways to engage with underserved communities who may enter the field through conservation corps. Dr. Drill has conducted research in Southern California, the Colorado River, the Hudson River, Cape Cod, and the East African Great Lakes. She holds a Ph.D. in Geography and a M.S. in Biology from UCLA, a B.S. in Biology from Virginia Tech, and an A.A. in Natural Science from Simon’s Rock of Bard College.


For questions about registration, event details, or anything else, contact:

Bill Thornton, Outdoor Education Director


805-924-4015 (direct line)

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