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Jim Graves.
Jim Graves.

By Jim Graves

For nearly 40 years, the Ocean Institute has been a unique feature in the Dana Point and Orange County communities. We are excited to begin writing a monthly column in the Dana Point Times about a wide variety of topics, including what our researchers and lecturers are working on, local ocean recreation and conservation news, and interesting takes on major nature trends and stories.

First, I’d like to include a bit of history about The Ocean Institute if you’re one of those people who have heard our name but never stepped inside our doors. Founded as the Marine Institute in 1977, its purpose is to offer ocean science and maritime history programs to the more than 100,000 students who visit each year (and their teachers). Ultimately it is the staff’s goal to educate the public about the need to respect and conserve our oceans, and hence inspire individuals and organizations to act in a positive way on the information they’ve acquired.

School children take classes during the week; the general public is also welcome to tour portions of the facility daily. The Institute has a research vessel, the Sea Explorer, which offers weekend whale watching cruises. It also has two tall ships, Spirit of Dana Point and Pilgrim, which take visitors back in time to experience life onboard a ship in the 1800s: hauling in lines, standing watch and hearing tales of the sea. The Pilgrim is a replica of the tall ship that Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Dana Point’s namesake, sailed onboard into Dana Point Harbor in the 1830s.

The Ocean Institute is located at 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, and has been in operation for nearly 40 years. Photo: Courtesy of the Ocean Institute
The Ocean Institute is located in the Dana Point Harbor and has been in operation for nearly 40 years. Photo: Courtesy of the Ocean Institute

Some of the newer features of the Institute include the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, an expansion and enhancement of its dock for the Sea Explorer and Spirit of Dana Point, which also provide facilities for instruction in ocean science and maritime history.

In 2015, the Institute opened its Headlands and Beyond: A Hands-On Exploration exhibit in the Institute’s courtyard and atrium, which allowed the facility to be open to visitors daily. Previously, the Institute had only been open on weekends, when school programs were not in session. The Headlands exhibit showcases the underwater world of our oceans, with hands-on activities for children.

The Ocean Institute is a non-profit organization dependent on the local community for its survival. The Institute is also supported by many volunteers, who engage in a wide range of activities, including working in the gift shop, teaching classes, maintaining the tall ships and greeting walk-up guests.

The general public is cordially invited to take an active role in supporting the Institute. To learn more, including about upcoming events and ways to support the Institute, visit or call 949.496.2274.

Jim Graves has worked for the Ocean Institute since 2003.

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