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Your chance to access the Cal Poly Research Pier in Avila Beach

When you first step on to the Cal Poly Research Pier in Avila Beach, you can barely see the university's facility a half-mile away.

“It is unique, I don’t think that there’s another structure like it along the entire west coast of the United States," said Dean Wendt, Director of the Cal Poly Center for Coastal Marine Sciences. "Things that people need to do on a ship sometimes can be done right from the end of our pier, last year about 1200 students took coursework out at the pier.”

The pier was donated by Unocal—now Chevron—back in 2001 as a way to avoid the costs of dismantling it. It costs thousands of dollars a year to maintain and is funded by a combination of a $3 million endowment from Chevron, grant, and state money.

It works well as a marine research facility because of aspects related to its previous use as an oil transfer station.

"It sits in very deep water, and it has industrial grade capacity," said Pier Facilities Operations Manager Thomas Moylan. "What does for our students is it provides a conduit to the ocean.”)  

A seawater system installed at the end of the pier is what enables students to work on their projects and conduct research that can’t easily be done on campus.

"We’re drawing water up from about 25-feet deep—that’s nice, cold, fresh ocean water," said Moylan. "Then it comes into our tank room area and people can use the seawater to run their experiments.”

While most of the research is done on the pier, Cal Poly students have traveled around the world for their projects.

“We’ve had students go all the way from the Arctic to the Antarctic, the Caribbean—for sure most of the projects are local, anywhere from Pismo beach up towards Big Sur," said Moylan.

Cal Poly Senior Jenny Greene is one of the students that uses the pier as her classroom.

“It’s a really cool opportunity to see how our marine biology program is growing," said Green. "We do a lot of work, a lot of research that benefits the local coastal communities.”

Twice a year, the facility opens to the public so that local residents can get a glimpse of how it's being used. About a thousand people usually attend the open house, according to those who help organize it.

Visitors an walk up and down the pier and interact with student-made demonstrations. These include a diving booth where visitors can put on a scuba mask and breathe underwater, remotely operated vehicles, and screens that show live feeds from divers in the water.

Senior biology major Connor Healy says while the event is a way to showcase what marine biology students are doing, it is also an opportunity for visitors to simply learn more about their local coast.

“The pier event is not just to show the community our research programs that we have at the moment, but more to show the community things about the ocean itself," said Healy.

First-year graduate student Paul Carvahlo has worked on a project developing non-toxic paints for boats and says the event is an opportunity for kids to learn too.

“A lot of students are doing research that pertains to our coast here," said Carvahlo. "It’s really important for kids to be exposed to scientific research at a young age and get to explore the ocean.”

Moylan says opening the pier up to the public is important because everybody is affected by the health of the oceans.

“We live here on the ocean and 75 percent of the people in the world live within a mile of a coastline—the oceans are part of our world," said Moylan. "People are innately interested in [oceans], most of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, so we are tied to the oceans directly.”


  • Cal Poly Research Pier Open House
  • Saturday, November 15, 2014 - 9:00 a.m. to noon.
  • More info: (805) 756-6777