Coastal research increasingly depends on citizen scientists

Brenna Visser at CS Monitor: “…This monthly ritual is a part of the COASST survey, a program that relies on data taken by volunteers to study large-scale patterns in seabird populations on the West Coast. The Haystack Rock Awareness Program conducts similar surveys for sea stars and marine debris throughout the year.

Surveys like these play a small part in a growing trend in the science community to use citizen scientists as a way to gather massive amounts of data. Over the weekend, marine scientists and conservationists came to Cannon Beach for an annual Coast Conference, a region wide event to discuss coastal science and stewardship.

Whether the presentation was about ocean debris, marine mammals, seabirds, or ocean jellies, many relied on the data collection work of volunteers throughout the state. A database for citizen science programs called, which recorded only a few dozen groups 10 years ago, now has more than 500 groups registered across the country, with new ones registering every day….

Part of the rise has to do with technology, she said. Apps that help identify species and allow unprecedented access to information have driven interest up and removed barriers that would have otherwise made it harder to collect data without formal training. Another is the science community slowly coming around to accept citizen science.

“I think there’s a lot of reticence in the science community to use citizen science. There’s some doubt the data collected is of the precision or accuracy that is needed to document phenomena,” Parrish said. “But as it grows, the more standardized it becomes. What we’re seeing right now is a lot of discussion in citizen science programs asking what they need to do to get to that level.”…While a general decline in federal funding for scientific research could play a factor in the science community’s acceptance of using volunteer-collected data, Parrish said, regardless of funding, there are some projects only citizen scientists can accomplish….(More)”