Blog: Finding Sanctuary – Get into your sanctuary on July 29 By: Lisa Wooninck

Come learn how to fish from the Santa Cruz Wharf at ‘Get Into Your Sanctuary’ on July 29. (Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary/Contributed)

By: Lisa Wooninck

Published: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 15, 2023

There is no better way to immerse yourself in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary than during our annual Get Into Your Sanctuary event on July 29. This year, we offer Fish Fest with numerous family friendly activities celebrating the variety and abundance of fishes in the sanctuary at the Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz and the Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon.

Both visitor centers will offer free guided fishing from their adjacent piers: the Santa Cruz Wharf and the San Simeon Pier. Fishing licenses are not needed when casting a line from a municipal pier. Fishery experts from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries will be on hand to help you identify your catch and tell you how old a fish might be. Join us at the  Sanctuary Exploration Center to create fish prints and view  the film “Southern Range: Salmon in the Santa Cruz Mountains.” A trio of singing scientists will perform music from 1-3 p.m. on the Santa Cruz Wharf.

Our two sanctuary visitor centers are fortunate to be located within 100 meters of two of the 30 or so piers and wharves in California. The Santa Cruz Wharf extends a half mile out and is thefarthest distance one can walk out onto the Pacific Ocean and into any national marine sanctuary — without getting wet.

Any of the piers that extend into Monterey Bay sanctuary offer a unique portal into the wildlife that call our sanctuary home. You will likely see harbor seals and possibly see sea otters. The loud bark of the sea lions will guide you to a viewing platform at the end of the Santa Cruz Wharf. Sometimes, you can spot a humpback blow or dolphins passing by. Bird watching from a pier is good, too; brown pelicans often rest on the wharf, and sooty shearwaters travel to the sanctuary in the thousands in the late summer and early fall, making the entire horizon a solid black flock of wayfaring birds.

We encourage locals and visitors to Get Into Your Sanctuary and take part in sustainable recreational activities such as kayaking, scuba diving, recreational fishing, surfing and walking on the beach. The sanctuary offers an abundance of food from its thriving ecosystem, and plenty of areas along our shores for marine mammals and birds to rest (or nest) after a satisfying meal.

Therefore, when getting into the sanctuary, we also encourage responsible wildlife viewing. This means keeping a safe distance, and using binoculars or a camera to get a close look from a distance. Many animals are protected and it’s against federal law to disturb them or cause them to change their behavior.

Last year, the Marine Mammal Center reported rescuing more than 150 marine mammals that were being harassed by people or their dogs on the California coastline. This year, they have already recorded 66 cases alone in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

One of the goals of Get Into Your Sanctuary is to offer immersive activities so that everyone may experience the sanctuary’s wonder and beauty. An appreciation of how special and unique this place is will hopefully foster a desire to protect it by committing to sustainable recreation and responsible wildlife viewing. National Marine Sanctuaries across the nation are offering in-person and virtual Get Into Your Sanctuary activities between July 23-Aug. 6. Join us at Fish Fest on July 29 at both sanctuary visitors centers and receive a free salmon poster by the artist Ray Troll.

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Lisa Wooninck became the superintendent of NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 2021. She has a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology, and marine biology from UC Santa Barbara. She can be reached at To learn more about the sanctuary, visit