Citizen Science

Become a citizen scientist and connect with a group of people passionate about protecting the North Puget Sound.

Volunteer groups led by marine scientists observe sea stars, forage fish, intertidal species, and more to gather data that helps protect species' habitats and longevity. Information collected in citizen science efforts provides a baseline of data that informs policy, restoration efforts, cleanups, and other important projects. Citizen scientists are integral to support important work that underfunded agencies cannot do themselves. 

How you can get involved:

Check out our comprehensive list of citizen science opportunities in North Puget Sound. How you can get involved:

1. Join the North Sound Stewards program.
Our North Sound Stewards program provides formal citizen science training and requires volunteers to contribute 50 hours over a one-year period.

2. Volunteer for a specific citizen science opportunity. 
See an interesting citizen science opportunity in the list below? Contact us and find out how you can get involved. We'll help match you up with the right people.

3. Share your skills in other ways.
If you'd like to support our citizen science efforts but can't be in the field, participate in a way that reflects your individual skills: Photography, data entry, and event coordination are some options.

Full schedule of survey dates coming soon!
Contact our citizen science coordinator Eleanor Hines at or (360) 733-8307. 

Intertidal monitoring

Intertidal monitoring surveys collect data on beach elevation profiles and species on the beach. Lead naturalists are available to answer any questions. This is part of a long-term monitoring project, and RE Sources is looking into how to best share the data with the public. Hosted by RE Sources, Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees, Northwest Straits Foundation.

            • Locations: Fidalgo Bay in Skagit County, Cherry Point in Whatcom County, Boulevard Park in Bellingham (starting in 2018) 
            • Expected hours: 5 hours per survey  (varies)
            • Trainings: Dates coming soon! 
            • 2019 survey dates: Dates coming soon! 
            • Tasks: identification of species including counts and percent covers, elevation profiles, photography of surveys and/or for quality control, scribes to record data, survey set up and break down, data entry

Forage fish surveys

Collect scoops of substrate from our local beaches, then process them to find out how many forage fish eggs there are. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, Northwest Straits Commission, Northwest Straits Foundation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

            • Locations: Little Squalicum Beach, Marine Park
            • Expected hours: 2.5 hours/month or 5 hours/month to take a leadership role 
            • Trainings: 8-hour training with WDFW required to lead a site; may show up and learn while doing, with approved MRC members 
            • 2019 survey dates: TBD (depends on tide)
            • Tasks: Scribes, scoopers, photographers, winnowers

Blue Water Task Force

Sample water quality at one site once per month. Take a lead role on a site or help as needed. Each site has two people who sample monthly for enterococcus bacteria, an indicator of whether the water is safe for recreation. When high counts occur, action will be taken to identify sources of pollution. This program includes everything from collecting samples, to doing all of the lab work, and posting the results online. Hosted by Northwest Straits Surfrider Foundation.

            • Locations: Larrabee State Park, North Chuckanut Bay, mouth of Padden Creek, Squalicum Beach, Locust Beach, Nooksack River Delta 
            • Expected hours: 3 hours monthly (2 hours/day 1, 30 minutes/day 2)
            • Trainings: Field training and lab training 
            • 2017 survey dates: TBD (once per month)
            • Equipment or skills needed: Will be wading up to knees in ocean water; water quality sampling and lab skills will be gained 
            • Tasks: Field sampling, lab work, data entry, pollution identification and control

Chuckanut Pollution Identification and Control (PIC) Program

North Chuckanut Bay has been closed to shellfish harvest for decades due to high bacteria levels. Help collect data to determine the sources of pollution, in order to open up the area to shellfish harvest. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, Whatcom County.
            • Location: North Chuckanut Bay 
            • Expected hours: 2 hours per sampling event, 1-2 times per month 
            • Trainings: Train as you sample with someone experienced 
            • Dates: TBD (once or twice per month, dependent on tides)
            • Equipment or skills needed: kayak, gear, and paddling skills; may help out with land-based samples from freshwater; learn to take water quality samples for fecal coliform bacteria and take salinity and temperature 
            • Tasks: water sampling, scribe

Sea star wasting syndrome monitoring

Identify and measure sea stars for signs of sea star wasting syndrome. Surveys happen at low tide, and are often done alongside intertidal monitoring in the summer during the day, and in the winter at night under a full moon. Data goes into a West Coast database to help scientists study wasting syndrome patterns and whether or not populations are recovering. Hosted by Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee, RE Sources, Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Institute.
            • Locations: Neptune Beach and Point Whitehorn Park, Cherry Point 
            • Expected hours: 2 hours per survey 
            • Trainings: Train on site with experienced people 
            • Dates: Each site once in summer and once in winter 
            • Equipment or skills needed: Learn to identify and measure sea stars 
            • Tasks: Identify, count, measure, and assess health of sea stars, photography, scribes

Green crab monitoring with the Washington Sea Grant team

Help out with early detection of invasive green crabs. Traps are set once per month at a low tide. The next day, participants identify and count species found in the traps and report to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. If a green crab is found, further action will be taken. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, RE Sources.
            • Locations: North Chuckanut Bay, Marine Park, Drayton Harbor 
            • Expected Hours: 5 hours (2.5 hours for two consecutive days/month)
            • Trainings: If interested, NSS can pair you up for a 6-hour class training provided by WSG annually in March 
            • Dates: TBD two consecutive days per month at low tide 
            • Equipment or skills needed: boots or waders, learn species identification and percent cover estimations, must be ready to trek in serious mud
            • Tasks: scribe, identification of species

Marine bird monitoring

Bird populations have declined throughout Puget Sound since the 1970s. Help compare current marine bird populations and see how they may or may not be changing over time. These studies can also help compare trends on the regional level. Hosted by Skagit and North Cascade Audubon, Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees, Department of Natural Resources, Western Washington Univeristy, RE Sources.

            • Locations: Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay
            • Expected hours: 3 hours per survey each month
            • Trainings: Five 3-hour classes with a counting test in August; other tasks available if you do not pass the training 
            • Dates: TBD (once per month September through May)
            • Equipment or skills needed: Bird identification and counting skills appreciated, though there are tasks for everyone
            • Tasks: Scribe, counter, spotter

Bull kelp monitoring

Little kelp data exists in Puget Sound. These surveys entail visiting the same kelp beds annually to record perimeter, temperature, depth, photos, and other measurements for year-to-year comparisons. This project is one-of-a-kind and still developing. The 2017 summer season will entail more scouting and adding new sites. These surveys are being compared with drone surveys to better understand strengths and weaknesses of both methods. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resource Committee, Northwest Straits Initiative.

            • Locations: Lummi Island, Cherry Point, Alden Bank
            • Expected hours: 4 hours, or up to 1 weekend for surveys
            • Trainings: TBD
            • Dates: Late July through September
            • Equipment or skills needed: Must be a competent kayaker and have your own boat
            • Tasks: GPS tracking, scribe, photographer

Ocean acidification sensor swaps

Swap out sensors from Cherry Point and Birch Bay sites every three months via kayak. Department of Natural Resources needs your help tracking all of its sensors. These sensors collect continuous data on pH, temperature, chlorophyll, and other important parameters to better understand how ocean acidification may be impacting nearshore marine environments and whether eelgrass beds provide important refuge for organisms. Hosted by Northwest Straits Surfrider Foundation, Department of Natural Resources.

            • Locations: Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, Birch Bay
            • Expected hours: 2 hours once every 3 months
            • Trainings: 5 hours with DNR or tag along with someone trained
            • Dates: TBD (once every 3 months, or 4 times per year)
            • Equipment or skills needed: Must own a kayak and be able to paddle in adverse conditions; will be swapping out heavy equipment while leaning over side of boat
            • Tasks: Kayaking/paddling, GPS and location skills 

Olympia Oyster restoration intertidal monitoring

Help monitor Olympia Oysters! The monitoring plan is still being compiled, but there will be plenty of opportunities to help collect data and determine the success of re-introducing Olympia Oysters to North Chuckanut Bay. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee.

            • Locations: North Chuckanut Bay (aka Mud Bay) 
            • Expected hours: TBD 
            • Trainings: TBD 
            • Dates: TBD 
            • Equipment or skills needed: TBD 
            • Tasks: TBD (likely intertidal surveys, elevation profiles, seeding and counting established oysters)

Marine debris monitoring

When you go to your local beach, pull out your smartphone and log marine debris! Help NOAA assess what and where marine debris is accumulating to better understand how we can start tackling this issue. Hosted by Surfrider Foundation, Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, RE Sources.
            • Locations: Beaches near you 
            • Expected hours: Whatever works for you 
            • Trainings: None needed 
            • Dates: Whatever works for you 
            • Equipment or skills needed: NOAA Marine Debris App, learn how to ID marine debris and enter into app

Training resources

Here are some training materials that will help you become more proficient in intertidal monitoring. 

Quality Assurance Plan for Intertidal Biota MonitoringAssessment and monitoring methods are based on those established by the WSU Beach Watcher Intertidal Monitoring Program, with modifications to enhance the compatibility with other studies. 

Intertidal Monitoring Standard Operating ProcedurePlease be sure to read these instructions carefully before your first survey. 

Learn more about Intertidal Monitoring: Quick overview of intertidal monitoring, the Citizen Stewardship Committees, how citizen science is used, the location of monitoring sites, etiquette in the field, and more.

Field guides to species in the Cherry Point & Fidalgo Aquatic Reserves:
Presentations on identification:

Citizen Science Reports 

Here are the results of citizen science surveys at Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserves from 2013-2014.

Bird Survey ReportOur findings are similar to those found previously by John Bower (2009). Our monitoring demonstrates the utility of citizen science and will add to the database showing abundance trends of these birds. In the event of an ecological disturbance, these data will be useful in monitoring any changes to bird abundances. 

Intertidal Biota Monitoring Report (Fidalgo) & Intertidal Biota Monitoring Report (Cherry Point): Intertidal monitoring at Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay was conducted in 2013 and 2014. We now have some baseline data which we will continue to build upon. Our baseline datal tells us  what organisms are commonly seen at out sites, and can alert us to changes in the ecology at the site and to the presence of invasive species. 

Decline of Sea Stars in Whatcom CountyAs part of our work on intertidal monitoring, we performed several sea star inventories at Cherry Point.