The Amigos de Bolsa Chica's priority is to protect our community, and that includes all of our volunteers, members, visitors and loved ones.

While the parking lots at both the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and the State Beach have been reopened, the Last Saturday of the Month Bird Walk/Trash Cleanup, the First Saturday of the Month Tours, and FLOW Fridays remain cancelled until further notice.

Please check back here frequently for updates on when we will be allowed to use the State Beach Visitors Center and when public gatherings are deemed safe for our volunteers and all participants in our education outreach efforts. Moving forward, we will also be following a strict regimen in order to maintain a clean and safe environment for learning and exploration.

Thank you for your understanding, and we look forward to seeing you once we resume. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us: or

FLOW is the Amigos de Bolsa Chica’s Citizen Science Program that has been developed in partnership with the Bolsa Chica State Beach to create a unique hands-on learning opportunity for students to experience a coastal wetland ecosystem through its most fundamental elements: water quality and plankton. Through the efforts of trained volunteer Citizen Scientists who are willing to share their knowledge with middle, high school, and community college students, FLOW demonstrates how humans are connected to the unique rhythms of nature at Bolsa Chica Wetlands and the Bolsa Chica State Beach. As an extension of the Amigos' mission to provide education about the importance of wetlands, FLOW aims to instill awareness of how our actions as a society affect coastal wetland health.

Classes that participate in FLOW learn about methods, techniques and equipment used to collect and analyze plankton, and also about the importance and applicability of monitoring programs for coastal management and conservation purposes. Following the scientific method and protocols along with studying life systems aligns the FLOW program with several Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Educators are encouraged to apply as far in advance as possible as the Amigos de Bolsa Chica can offer only a limited number of FLOW shadowing visits per school year.Educational materials are provided to aid in learning the concepts in preparation for a field trip or to enhance any students understanding of the ocean and wetlands as part of our educational mission. During their visit, students will shadow and assist Amigos Citizen Scientists in their normal monitoring activities. Teachers will also receive lesson plans and student worksheets to use in the classroom after the field trip in order to review what students learned during the visit and to perform further data analyses.

Thanks to generous support from the California State Parks Foundation, we are able to provide assistance to qualifying under served school for bus transportations costs. Read the Field Trip Scheduling Form to find out if your school qualifies.

Schedule your FLOW Field Trip today!

Questions? Contact FLOW at

FLOW Training Aids

Collecting water samples at the wetlands

Taking measurements

Analyzing samples at the Visitor Center

What are plankton and phytoplankton?

Plankton are microscopic creatures that live adrift in the world’s ocean, lakes, ponds rivers and wetlands. These plant-like microorganisms are called phytoplankton (pronounced fi-toe-plank-tun) and sometimes also referred to as microalgae. Phytoplankton form the basis of virtually all aquatic food webs on Earth; assist in regulating the climate system by accounting for half of all photosynthetic activity; and cycle elements between species in the ocean. Humans, marine mammals and seabirds can be harmed by toxins produced by a few species of phytoplankton when they accumulate in the food chain. FLOW allows students to increase their awareness of Phytoplankton’s importance, teaches them to identify different species of Phytoplankton, and to examine an array of water quality related topics such as the effects of urban runoff on the watershed and the potential impacts of climate change on the marine food web. Using scientific tools and techniques to gain information, FLOW assists in illustrating the impact human activities have upon the planet.

What are potentially harmful algae?

Most species of phytoplankton are, as explained above, beneficial to other aquatic life and to us, humans. However, about 5% of the approximately 5,000 currently described microalgae species are considered to be harmful, as they generate negative economic, environmental or public health impacts. Harmful processes include high biomass production, which causes physical, chemical and biological alteration of the marine environment, and production of toxins. Toxins produced by microalgae may directly harm the organisms that eat them (for example, bivalve shellfish like mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops, certain fish like anchovies and sardines, and crustaceans like crab and lobster) or bioaccumulate in the trophic chain, causing intoxication and, in extreme cases, death of consumers of contaminated mollusks, crustaceans or fish. Humans, as well as marine mammals and seabirds, can be harmed by these toxins when dangerous levels accumulate in these seafood items. The main toxins produced by microalgae are the saxitoxins and congeners that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), the okadaic acid and congeners that cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and the domoic acid and derivatives that cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). Worldwide, human deaths due to these toxins are estimated to be around several hundred cases per year, and the number of seabirds, sealions, seals and manatees that die because of harmful phytoplankton is much higher than that. You can read more about harmful phytoplankton by visiting the following websites: