Sea Grant Citizen Science Projects
The term "citizen science" has been used to describe an array of ideas, from a philosophy of public engagement in scientific discourse to the work of scientists driven by a sense of environmental responsibility. Citizen science can be broadly defined as projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to collect data to answer real-world questions. We did not include citizen education programs like Hanauma Bay, trash clean-ups, or volunteer restoration programs unless the program includes collection of scientific data, if you are interested in programs like that, please contact your local Sea Grant program.
Citizen science programming is a strong focus for Sea Grant work in many state programs across our network and across all of Sea Grant’s focus areas. In many cases, we've been developing and supporting citizen science programs and contributing valuable data to research and resource management efforts for well over twenty years, and these programs often have equally important literacy-research-management-related goals.
The 2014-2017 Sea Grant Strategic Plan includes the goal of an environmentally literate public supported and informed by a continuum of lifelong formal and informal engagement opportunities. The following descriptions of each citizen science program were taken nearly verbatim from the survey responses and project websites.
Texas Sea Grant's Red Tide Rangers. Image: Seth Patterson.
Delaware’s Citizen Monitoring Program’s (est. 1991) goal is to collect verifiable water quality data to support public policy decisions. This program also aims to increase public participation and support for the protection of Delaware’s water resources. The citizen scientists have been working on Inland Bays watershed. Since 1991, Phytoplankton Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Monitoring (since 2001), Recreational Beach Monitoring (since 2003), and Broadkill River watershed (since 2004). They provide data (e.g. HAB and bacteria monitoring) to state resource managers to support science based decisions for total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), recreational beach advisories, and 305(b) water quality report. They also supply data, staff and outreach support to Delaware Sea Grant (and University of Delaware) research projects and graduate students including: HAB/Vibrio connection; Detection and Enumeration of Karenia sp.; Molecular Tracking of Fecal Contamination in Delaware Coastal Waters; and Diatoms as Environmental Indicators. Additionally, they have responded to citizen based inquires and developed citizen science research projects to address issues, including: South Bethany Canals Water Quality Studies; Inland Bays Clam Reseeding Project; Inland Bays Macro Algae Surveys ; Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Drifter Study; Holiday Weekend Effect Study; Phytoplankton Monitoring Program; Surfrider Winter beach bacteria sampling; Inland Bays mid channel boat sampling.
Sea Grant Program: Delaware Sea Grant
Partners: UD College of Earth, Ocean and Environment; Delaware Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Control; Delaware Center for Inland Bays, coastal communities; USEPA
See Delaware's Citizen Monitoring Program website
Red Tide Rangers (est. 1992) monitor for the presence of Karenia brevis, a common microscopic, single-celled, photosynthetic organism found in Gulf of Mexico waters that releases toxins known to harm wildlife and people on land and at sea. K. brevis can "bloom" and cause significant discoloration of Gulf and bay waters, commonly known as a “red tide.” The Red Tide Rangers collect water samples from several locations around South Padre Island and then go to the UTPA laboratory to use microscopes to count the number of K. brevis cells. They also note the number of dead fish washed ashore on the beach, if any, and gauge the severity of the irritating aerosol created when red tide cells break apart in the surf. Goals include providing timely information on aerosol impacts especially for those with respiratory issues such as asthma, and issuing warnings through the County Health Department as to whether the beaches are safe for canines, which can be seriously impacted by the toxin through fish or sea foam ingestion.
Scientific Impact: The data collected by the Red Tide Rangers are used by local communities to alert the public about the presence of red tide, and by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which issues state-wide advisories. The data are also used by the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System (HAB-OFS) for ground truthing K. brevis cell densities determined via satellite. The Cameron County Health Department uses the information to issue warnings for canines on the beach and lifts them one month after dead fish stop washing ashore. Canines are sensitive to the aerosol and sea foam and dead fish can cause death if ingested by these species.
Technology/Social Media: Red Tide Rangers works with the Brownsville National Weather service office to post red tide condition updates and warnings on their Facebook page. We also post the same information on the Texas Coastal Naturalist Facebook page. We also benefit from cooperation with the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System (HAB-OFS) and can predict movement of red tide concentrations from their satellite observations to determine where sampling is needed for analyzing cell concentrations and aerosol impacts.
Sea Grant Program: Texas Sea Grant
Partners: UT Pan American’s Coastal Studies Laboratory, Kills & Spills Harmful Algal Bloom Work Group with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System (HAB-OFS), the City of South Padre Island Department of Coastal Resources, and the Cameron County Health Department
See Red Tide Rangers information
Maine’s Beach Profile Monitoring (est. 1999) engages 150 community and school volunteers to measure changes in the distribution of sand on the beach. Tracking these changes over long periods (as they have done for 15 years) provides Maine Geological Survey with data to identify seasonal, annual, and even track long-term trends in beach erosion and accretion. Beach profiling data are used to inform beach management decisions and to monitor the success of management programs. These data are leveraged for many applications like the State of Maine's Beaches Report and the biannual Maine Beaches Conference. All program-related information is made available via the website:
Sea Grant Program: Maine Sea Grant
Partners: University of Maine, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Geological Survey
See Maine's Beach Profile Monitoring website
Project Limulus (est. 2000) aims to understand the dynamics of organisms that inhabit Long Island Sound using the American Horseshoe Crab as a model species. The data they collect are used to support sustainable management of the Long Island Sound ecosystem. These data are shared with CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Department of Marine Fisheries, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and the IUCN Red List Committee for the American Horseshoe Crab.
Sea Grant Program: Connecticut Sea Grant
Partners: Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Maritime Aquarium, The Nature Conservancy, Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
See Project Limulus website and Facebook page
ReefWatchers Monitoring Program on the Island of Hawai'i (est. 2000) has over the past 3 years trained 185 volunteers to count fish and invertebrates in 16 selected reef locations around the Island of Hawai'i. Volunteers of all ages monitor fish count transects, tide pools, and coral spawning activity. The goal is to provide observation data over long periods of time[TNJ1] .
Sea Grant Program: Hawai’i Sea Grant
See ReefWatchers Monitoring Program on the Island of Hawai'i website
Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program (est. 2001) volunteers with access to waterfront property in Mobile or Baldwin counties grow oysters in gardens that hang from their piers. Volunteers clean the gardens weekly from June to November by pulling the gardens out of the water and rinsing off mud, algae and any other fouling material. After visually inspecting the gardens and removing predators, such as blue crabs, stone crabs and oyster drills, the gardeners return the gardens to the water. On average, each volunteer grows 250 oysters per garden. At the end of the gardening season, the oysters are collected from the volunteers and planted on restoration reefs in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound. This education and research program has planted more than 500,000 oysters since it began in 2001. This program aims to increase participants’ literacy about the role of oysters and oyster reefs in the ecology and economy of Mobile Bay and the MS Sound. The results from this program are used to develop better strategies for restorative plantings.
Sea Grant Program: Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
Partners: Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and Auburn University.
See Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program website and Oyster Trail website
Maine Healthy Beaches Program (est. 2001) is an effort to monitor water quality and protect public health on Maine's coastal beaches. The program brings together diverse partners and works to build local capacity to address pollution issues. Routine beach monitoring data are used to inform the status of the beach (e.g. Open vs. Advisory). Enhanced monitoring data are used to identify priority areas needing further investigation like a sanitary survey. The website provides real-time data on the status of beach closures.
Sea Grant Program: Maine Sea Grant
Partners: University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, US EPA, and local municipalities.
See Maine Healthy Beaches Program website
Great Lakes Nonindigenous Species Information System [GLANSIS](est. 2005) is primarily a source of information on Great Lakes Aquatic Invasive Species, for use in guiding research, early detection, rapid response and management. Citizens are encouraged to submit sightings to enhance the mapping component. They are asked to provide a sample (or photo capturing key features) to confirm ID along with the date and location of the observation. These data improve local mapping and help inform decision makers of the location of the invasion front.
Sea Grant Program: Michigan Sea Grant
Partners: NOAA & USGS
See GLANSIS website and Michigan Sea Grant Invasive Species webpage
California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program [CCFRP](est. 2006) is a tag and release fishing program to evaluate the effects of marine protected areas (MPA) on populations of fish species along central California. This program employs the expertise of fishermen and skippers to develop and execute a scientifically sound research program. As of the 2013 volunteer newsletter, they have conducted 244 hook-and-line surveys in an eﬀort to gather information regarding species compositions, lengths, and catch rates of rockﬁshes and other species commonly found in the nearshore environment. From these surveys, 717 volunteer anglers have spent 24,400 hours catching 46,857 ﬁshes from 46 diﬀerent species. They tagged 40,439 fishes and there have been 243 recaptured by their sampling trips or angler returns. Anglers provide data on species, length, depth, and location of the tagged fish. These data are being used to test data-poor fishery models and will be incorporated into state management programs. Resource managers are working with academic scientists to evaluate data-poor fishery model accuracy and relative performance using actual CCFRP data. The results from a management strategy evaluation will provide information on which models to use given different management control rules/objectives.
Sea Grant Program: California Sea Grant
Partners: Commercial fishermen, charter boat captains/company owners, recreational anglers, academic scientists, resource managers, graduate/undergraduate students.
See CCFRP website and Facebook page
Clean Up Sound and Harbors [CUSH] (est. 2008) has a mission to clean up and protect Fishers Island Sound and its coves, inlets, bays, rivers and harbors. CUSH began with 12 volunteers monitoring six sites in Stonington Harbor. Now in its sixth year, the program has expanded to 14 estuary sites between the Pawcatuck and Mystic Rivers, together with a number of tributary streams. CUSH maintains a long-term water quality record of monthly nutrient and bacteria and biweekly indicator monitoring. The data are shared with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Town Department of Public Works, residents, other environmental groups to support residents and understanding of green infrastructure and stormwater mitigation.
Sea Grant Program: Connecticut Sea Grant (2 development grants)
Partners: Prof. Jamie Vaudrey, University of Connecticut & 3 planning grants through NFWF-LISSFF.
See CUSH website
Sound Stewards Program (est. 2008) develops citizen science research projects for K-12 and college students to monitor and collect data for managers of Long Island Sound Stewardship Areas. The goal is to have a more informed citizenry that better understands the Long Island Sound estuary. The data are used by NY State Parks and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation to make decisions on the management and habitat restoration of the Stewardship Areas. Currently paper data sheets are used and collected. A web-based form and/or mobile app (EpiCollect) for entering data are being developed.
Sea Grant Program: New York Sea Grant
Partners: Long Island Sound Study; NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation; New York State Office of Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation (NY State Parks); Brookhaven National Laboratory Open Space Stewardship Program (OSSP)
Signs of the Seasons volunteers. Image: New Hampshire Sea Grant.
SoundCitizen (est. 2008) is a community-based water sample network in the Puget Sound region. They focus on scientific investigations of the chemical links between urban settings and aquatic systems. They work with undergraduates from the University of Washington Tacoma and a region-wide network of volunteers, schools and community organizations to collect information on light-hearted but informative compounds (cooking spices) and more serious compounds (emerging pollutants) in watersheds and marine waters. Thus far, they have collected over 1,700 samples from throughout Puget Sound. Their scientific findings illustrate strong seasonal links between household activities (cooking, cleaning etc.) and the subsequent appearance of chemical “fingerprints” of these activities in aquatic and marine environments. This data has been used to produce three peer-reviewed publications.
Sea Grant Program: Washington
Partners: University of Washington Center for Urban Waters,
See SoundCitizen website
Signs of the Seasons: A New England Phenology Program (est. 2010) participants help scientists document the local effects of global climate change by using their backyards as laboratories. Hundreds of volunteers are trained to observe and record the phenology (seasonal changes) of common plants and animals living in their own communities – a citizen science project that fills a gap in regional climate research. Volunteers across Maine and now New Hampshire record the growth of milkweed, the nesting of robins and more. The goal is to build a rich, detailed record of the region’s seasonal turns, a resource too costly to build without a network of citizen volunteers. The collected data are made available to our collaborating scientists and resource managers.
Sea Grant Program: Maine Sea Grant
Partners: USA National Phenology Network, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Acadia National Parks, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Maritime Academy, Maine Audubon, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Schoodic Education and Research Center
See Signs of the Seasons website
Coastal Research Volunteers [CRV] (est. 2011) provides coastal scientists and environmental organizations with an organized volunteer program to help accomplish more research in the New Hampshire seacoast. CRV also aims to provide education and stewardship opportunities for volunteers interested in direct participation in scientific research that addresses local, NH seacoast environmental issues. The data CRV volunteers collect has multiple uses depending on the research goals and the project partner, i.e., whether NHSG, UNH, a state agency, or a municipality is the primary project partner. Some data are used for local decision making (town partners, local golf course), some for research management on state or regional scale (state agencies), and the projects with academic partners often result in informing local management decisions as well as contributing to the scientific literature.
Sea Grant Program: New Hampshire Sea Grant
Partners: Univ. of New Hampshire, The Nature Conservancy, NH Fish and Game, Town of Exeter, Town of Greenland
See CRV website
MPA Watch (est. 2011) has volunteers observe and record both consumptive and non-consumptive offshore and onshore activities in and around Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which will improve our understanding of how people are using these new MPAs. Examples of activities volunteers record include consumptive activities such as commercial lobster fishing or shore fishing, and non-consumptive activities such as swimming or wildlife watching. Data from citizen-science projects like MPA Watch will compliment data collected by official monitoring groups, resource managers, scientists and the Department of Fish and Game. Ecological, economic, and demographic are just a few types of data that will be collected to provide a comprehensive picture on how the MPAs are functioning.
Sea Grant Program: Sponsored by USC Sea Grant
Partner: Run by Heal the Bay
See MPA Watch website
iEvolve with STEM: Inquiry and Engagement to Invigorate and Optimize Learning for Everyone (est. 2012) was created to improve student performance in science through adoption of a "citizen science" model supported by teacher professional development, which also cultivates "action research" skills. For example, Ohio SG Assistant Director, Chris Winslow, will be teaching teachers two different sampling protocols: a limnology protocol (plankton sampling and identification, nutrient analysis, secchi readings, etc.) and a stream protocol (EPAs QHEI – “Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index”, macroinvertebrates/fish sampling and identification, discharge measurement, secchi readings, etc.). This professional development includes lessons on both data collection and analysis (e.g., high vs. low QHEI score means, what does transparency mean, what do nutrient values tell us, what do different plankton species tell us, etc.).
Sea Grant Program: Ohio Sea Grant
Partners: Lead partner is Bowling Green State University with additional core partners being the Perkins Local Schools and the Sandusky City Schools. Supporting partners are Bowling Green State University, Erie County Soil and Water Conservation District, Lourdes University, Metroparks of the Toledo Area, The Ohio State University: Stone Laboratory, The University of Toledo, and Toledo Zoo
See iEvolve website
Charter Captain Water Sampling Program (est. 2012) consists of 5 charter boat captains monitoring Lake Erie water quality. Once a week, they collect water samples for analysis of nutrients, phytoplankton, and cyanobacterial toxins. These data are shared with NOAA and university scientists.
Sea Grant Program: Ohio Sea Grant
Partner: Ohio EPA
Great Lakes FieldScope (est. 2012) is part of a nation-wide initiative to share, analyze and interpret data through dynamic maps. The focus is on education about watersheds, water quality and related issues, such as climate change. Existing GIS layers include elevation, land cover, bathymmetry, Areas of Concern (contaminants), fish spawning, and boundaries. Observing data are input 2 ways: (1) Anyone may submit via online data form, as well as a mobile app used in the field; and (2) Sea Grant facilitates uploading data may to the system as a set by working with citizen groups or research teams. Citizens may compare their data with scientist’s data. University researchers, watershed councils and others are extending water quality monitoring efforts by sharing information with others in the Great Lakes region.
Sea Grant Program: Michigan Sea Grant
Partners: University of Michigan, Michigan State University, US Geological Survey (USGS), National Geographic Education and the Great Lakes Observing System
See Great Lakes FieldScope website
Salmon Ambassadors (est. 2013) asks anglers to provide information that will improve understanding of how natural reproduction and stocking affect Chinook salmon fisheries. All hatchery-reared Chinook salmon stocked into Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have been marked with a fin clip since 2011. For every King Salmon (Chinook) caught, anglers are asked to: 1) measure the length, 2) check for the fin clip, and 3) record the catch info. These answers will provide information on when and where fish (stocked and wild) are being caught and whether stocking cuts are influencing local ports and rivers.
Sea Grant Program: Michigan Sea Grant
Partners: Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association, University of Michigan, Michigan State University
See Salmon Ambassadors website
Pago Bay Community-Based Conservation Project (est. 2014) will increase community engagement in the watershed. This project will increase the amount of baseline and threat based data that exists for Pago Bay. Likewise, it will monitor the effects of upland restoration efforts on water quality and reef health in Pago Bay. Such data will enable the community to make informed decisions regarding community based management and potentially inform new legislation.
Sea Grant Program: Guam
Partners: NOAA Fisheries, Village of Yona, Village of Chalan Pago, NRCS, Center for Micronesian Empowerment
SoundToxins; a diverse partnership of Washington state shellfish and finfish growers, environmental learning centers, Native tribes, and Puget Sound volunteers; is a monitoring program designed to provide early warning of harmful algal blooms and Vibrio parahaemolyticus events in order to minimize both human health risks and economic losses to Puget Sound fisheries. The SoundToxins program works with volunteers to sample phytoplankton at locations throughout Puget Sound. The overall goal is to establish a cost-effective monitoring program led by state managers, tribal harvesters, and commercial fish and shellfish farmers. The SoundToxins program aims to provide sufficient warning of HAB and vibrio events to enable early or selective harvesting of seafood, thereby minimizing risks to human health and reducing economic losses to Puget Sound fisheries.The specific objectives of the SoundToxins program are to determine which environmental conditions promote the onset and flourishing of HABs and increased concentrations of V. parahaemolyticus; and to determine which combination of environmental factors can be used for early warning of these events.
To accomplish this, seawater samples are collected weekly by the participants at 24 different sites throughout Puget Sound and are analyzed for salinity, temperature, nutrients, chlorophyll, (paralytic shellfish toxins and domoic acid) phytoplankton species, and V. parahaemolyticus. Phytoplankton species diversity is described and the four target species specifically identified and enumerated are Pseudo-nitzschia species, Alexandrium catenella, Dinophysis species, and Heterosigma akashiwo. The program provides an early warning system for the Washington State Department of Health to prioritize shellfish toxin analysis, as well as timely information to shellfish and finfish producers and researchers to protect public health and minimize crop losses. Cell concentrations of Alexandrium, Dinophysis, Heterosigma, and Pseudo-nitschia are reported via an online database at Soundtoxins.org. The success of the SoundToxin program as an early warning system has led to many inquiries from entities along the West Coast of the United States and British Columbia.
Sea Grant Program: Washington
Partners: NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Washington State Department of Health Shellfish Program, Evergreen State College, Pacific Shellfish Institute, Port Townsend Marine Science Center, King County Environmental Lab, Camano Island Beach Watchers, San Juan County Beach Walkers, Clam Fresh Commercial Hatchery, Coasts Seafood Company, Long Live the King Salmon Hatchery, Penn Cove Shellfish, Seattle Shellfish, Taylor Shellfish Farms, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Nisqually Indian Tribe
See SoundToxins website
Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team [COASTT] (est. 1988) was founded by Dr. Julia Parrish as a result of her long-time work on coastal seabirds of the Pacific Northwest, and her desire to expand baseline data beyond the capacity of academic and agency science programs. COASST has almost 500 participants and is the largest beached bird network in the world. COASST monitors nearly 300 beaches spread across northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. They monitor over 100 species and have had independent experts verify that their volunteers correctly identify 85% of the birds to the species level.
Originally designed to address the need for a rigorous baseline should there be an oil spill, COASST data are now being used for an array of science and resource management projects, including: gillnet bycatch, genetic ‘typing’ of Western Grebes, a Washington State Candidate for listing as Threatened or Endangered, introgression of avian influenza, the local impacts of wind and weather on seabird beaching rates, and changing coastal conditions such as climate change.
Sea Grant Programs: California and Alaska
Partners: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government, Center for Coastal Alaska Studies, Clallam County Beach Watchers
See COASTT website