Citizen science goes to the beach

By May 24th, 2010 at 9:40 am | Comment

REEF fish survey: volunteer divers record their observations.

REEF's volunteer divers survey fish.

As Memorial Day approaches and Americans slide into summer vacation, many are preparing to make the annual pilgrimage to the beach. While basting in the sun and ambling along a coastline, those with scientific leanings will inevitably tune into the surrounding natural environment—casually observing and appreciating the water, plants, fish, and other marine life.

So why not put those observations to use? We’ve mixed up a little surf and science cocktail for the lazy summer days ahead. Here are half a dozen citizen science projects you can participate in while at or near the beach:

REEF Fish Survey Project and Earthdive: The organizers of Earthdive ask, “What did you see on your last scuba dive, snorkel trip, or visit to the ocean?” After you record your observations of “key indicator species” in the global dive log, they are incorporated into a snapshot of ocean health in 30 eco-regions around the world. Similarly, REEF enlists divers to collect data on fish using a visual survey method specifically designed for volunteers and an underwater slate and pencil.  Findings are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF’s website and are used for public education and by a variety of resource agencies and researchers.

Shark Trust: Help this program build a database of shark sightings across the oceans. By submitting your sightings—not only of sharks but also of skates and rays—you  generate important data for marine researchers and conservationists working around the world.

JellyWatch: Have you seen a jellyfish on the beach? Report it here. Actually, you can report all sorts of ocean conditions to this public database: red tides, squid and mammal strandings, and other indicators of ocean health. All submitted data and photos are freely available for bulk download, so students, teachers, and scientists can conduct their own research using information gathered from around the globe. If you’ll be going on regular beach walks, boat rides, or underwater dives, you can save your default location to make it easy to record your sightings.

Volunteers survey a local beach for COASST.

Citizen scientists monitor their beach for COASST. (Photo by Lois Miller)

Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team: “COASST” for short, this is a network of citizen scientists who conduct monthly surveys to monitor marine resources and ecosystem health at 300 beaches across northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. By collaborating with citizens, natural resource management agencies, and environmental organizations, COASST works to translate long-term monitoring into effective marine conservation solutions.

Harbor Porpoise Monitoring: Volunteers observe porpoises and conduct surveys at various locations near Anacortes, Whidbey Island, and San Juan Island in Washington state’s Puget Sound. Your efforts, which may be conducted on land or aboard a boat, will help document populations of the harbor porpoise, which have diminished dramatically in the last 60 years.

Community Aquatic Monitoring Program:  Volunteers help monitor the health and marine productivity of Canada’s water ecosystem by collecting biological data from small fish and crustaceans that are captured and released. In addition to identifying fish and crustacean species and counting their the numbers, participants measure water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen; describe aquatic vegetation; and collect sediment and water samples. The information you collect supports the research and monitoring work of academic and government scientists.

To find more watery science to do this summer, browse through the Ocean and Water category in our Project Finder. If you’d like to recommend other ocean-based projects, please add a comment here. And if you run such a project and need volunteers, please add the project to our listings.

Enjoy the summer—and don’t forget the sunblock.

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