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About the Program

The Pacific Plankton Program (P3) is a collaborative effort at Cabrillo College to monitor plankton levels at tow sites in the greater Santa Cruz area. The program provides a scientific experience for volunteers and Cabrillo students who enroll in Bio-450. Designed and modeled as an internship experience, the course teaches field and laboratory skills at absolutely no cost to the student, offering exposure without obstacles. Participants are eligible for certificates of achievement documenting their skills gained over this semester-long experience. 

P3 was born from a need to expand the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) – a collaboration of citizen scientists operating under the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA).  The PMN was first implemented on the East Coast in 2001 and has continued to expand its sample locations to the West Coast in order to create a comprehensive picture of how physical conditions affect coastal plankton populations and, in turn, our coastal communities at large.


The goals of the PMN and of P3 are to:

  • monitor trends in the presence of plankton species along the coastal waters throughout the year

  • create a comprehensive list of harmful algal species inhabiting United States coastal marine waters

  • identify general trends in physical and chemical conditions where harmful algal blooms (HABs) would be more likely to occur 

  • isolate areas prone to HABs for further study of marine biotoxins by researchers in an effort to mitigate the effects of the blooms

  • promote an increased awareness and education to the public on plankton and HABs

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