MONTEREY, Calif. -

Teenagers from Pajaro Valley, Watsonville and Aptos high schools are learning about environmental conservation this summer through the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The aquarium's Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats program, better known as WATCH, offers a year-long educational environmental experience. The program begins in the summer and then extends through the school year. More than 75 students are participating in this year's program, which began this week.

Watsonville has some of the last large wetland habitats in northern California. From June 16 - 27 and July 14 - August 25,  students participating in the WATCH program will do hands-on activities while exploring the Pajaro River and Watsonville coastline alongside aquarium staff, teachers and local ecologists. The students are using scientific methods to evaluate the health of three habitats -- riparian, wetlands and coastal dunes.

Students who continue with the program during the school year enroll in a lab science course taught by aquarium and high school staff. The teens identify, propose and pursue a larger environmental project with a goal of creating positive change through community-based conservation.

For the seventh year in a row, the aquarium will provide college scholarships to graduating seniors from participating high schools who complete the WATCH program and are enrolled in either a community college or a four-year university.

The WATCH program is free to participants, thanks to support from Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, as well as private donors.