Citizen Science

Join our citizen science program and connect with a group of people passionate about protecting the North Puget Sound.

Volunteer groups led by marine scientists will observe sea stars, forage fish, intertidal species, and more to gather data that will help protect these species' habitats and longevity. Information collected through 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. 

Intertidal monitoring

Since 2012, intertidal monitoring surveys have collected data on beach elevation profiles along with information about the presence or absence of certain species. Volunteers help with species percent covers and counts in the quadrats. Lead naturalists are present to help answer any questions. This is part of a long-term monitoring project and RE Sources is looking into  how to best communicate the data to 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 (in 2018) 
            • Expected hours: 5 hours per survey  (varies)
            • Trainings: April 2017 
            • 2017 survey dates: May 25, May 27, May 28, June 25, July 10, July 21, July 22, July 23, July 24, and August 22 
            • Tasks: photography of surveys and/or for quality control purposes, scribes to record data, identification of species including counts and percent cover estimates, elevation profiles, survey set up and break down, data entry

Forage fish surveys

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

            • Locations: Little Squalicum Beach, Marine Park, Aiston Preserve on Lummi Island 
            • 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 trained and approved MRC members 
            • 2017 survey dates: TBD (below +5 tide heights once per month)
            • Tasks: Scribes, scoopers, photographers, winnowers, and more

Blue Water Task Force

Sample water quality at one of the sites once per month. Participants can 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 water quality program includes everything from collecting samples in the field, 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 Delta 
            • Expected hours: Monthly (2 hours on day 1, 30 minutes on 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 what the sources of pollution may be in order to open up the area to shellfish harvest. Hosted by Whatcom MRC, Whatcom County.
            • Location: North Chuckanut Bay 
            • Expected hours: 2 hours per sampling event, once or twice 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

At a selected site, identify and measure all sea stars on the surface that are visible. Each sea star is assessed for degree of sea star wasting syndrome. These happen at low tide, which often mean they’ll be done alongside Intertidal Monitoring in the summer during the day, but will be a night time at low tide sometime between November and January under a full moon. Data goes into a larger database to compare sea stars up and down the west coast to help scientists figure out sea star wasting syndrome patterns and whether or not populations are recovering. Hosted by CPAR CSC, RE Sources, Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Institute.
            • Locations: Neptune Beach and Point Whitehorn Park, Cherry Point 
            • Expected hours: about 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: will learn to identify and measure sea stars 
            • Tasks: Identify, count, measuring, and assess health of sea stars, photography, scribes

Green crab monitoring

Help out with early detection of these invasive crabs. Traps are set out once per month at a low tide. The next day, participants identify and count species found in the traps and report back to WDFW. If a green crab is found, further action will be taken. Surveys also include wrack and carapace surveys. Hosted by Whatcom MRC, WDFW, RE Sources.
            • Locations: North Chuckanut Bay, Marine Park 
            • Expected Hours: 2.5 hours for two consecutive days each month (or 5 hours total/month) 
            • Trainings: 8-hour training provided by WDFW, or learn from those already trained; must be trained to lead a site 
            • Dates: TBD two consecutive days per month at low tide 
            • Equipment or skills needed: boots or waders, learn species identification and percent cover estimations 
            • Tasks: scribe, identification of species, and more

Marine bird monitoring

Bird populations have been declining throughout Puget Sound since the 1970s. Help us replicate the MESA studies to compare current marine bird populations and see how they may or may not be changing over time. These studies can also help us compare trends on the regional level to other Puget Sound studies. Hosted by Skagit and North Cascade Audubon, CPAR and FBAR CSCs, DNR, WWU/Fairhaven College, RE Sources.

            • Locations: Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay
            • Expected Hours: 3 hours per survey each month
            • Trainings: 5x3-hour classes with a test to be a counter offered in August; other tasks available to those not able to do or 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

There is little kelp data that exists, especially for Puget Sound. These surveys entail visiting the same kelp beds annually and taking the perimeter, temperature, depth, photos, and a number of other measurements to compare how our local kelp beds are changing year to year in different parts of Puget Sound. This project is one of a kind and still developing. The 2017 summer season will entail some more scouting and adding on new sites. These surveys are also being compared with drone surveys to better understand strengths and weaknesses of both survey methods. Hosted by Whatcom MRC, Northwest Straits Initiative.

            • Locations: Lummi Island (Aiston Preserve and south end), Cherry Point, Alden Bank
            • Expected Hours: 4 hours or up to 1 weekend for surveys
            • Trainings: TBD
            • Dates: Late July - September
            • Equipment or skills needed: must be a competent kayaker and have your own boat for these surveys
            • Tasks: GPS tracking, scribe, photographer, and more

Ocean acidification sensor swaps

Swap out sensors from the Cherry Point/Birch Bay site every 3 months for DNR via kayak. DNR has ocean acidification sensors at several sites around Washington State and needs your help with getting to all of the sites. These sensors collect continuous data on pH, temperature, chlorophyll, and other important parameters to better understand how ocean acidification may be impacting our nearshore marine environments and if/how eelgrass beds may be able to provide important refuge for organisms like shellfish larvae.  Hosted by NWS Surfrider, DNR.

            • 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 already trained
            • Dates: TBD, once every 3 months, or 4 times per year
            • Equipment or skills needed: Need to 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 for finding the sensors in open water

Aiston Preserve monitoring

This project is still developing, so if you are interested, stay tuned and let know you’re interested. Aiston Preserve is a quarry site that has a developing restoration plan along with a monitoring plan. Citizen science projects are expected to include: forage fish, wrack line, snorkel fish surveys, elevation profiles, and possible more. Hosted by Whatom MRC, Northwest Straits Foundation, Lummi Island Heritage Trust.

            • Locations: Aiston Preserve on Lummi Island
            • Expected Hours: TBD
            • Trainings: TBD
            • Dates: TBD
            • Equipment or skills needed: TBD
            • Tasks: TBD

Olympia Oyster Restoration Intertidal Monitoring

Help us assess and monitor our Olympia Oyster restoration project! We are still compiling the monitoring plan, but there will be plenty of opportunities to help us collect data to monitor this project to determine the success of re-introducing Olympia Oysters to North Chuckanut Bay where they once grew. There’s a shell midden at Woodstock Farm full of Olympia Oyster shells from times past. Hosted by Whatcom MRC.

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

Marine debris monitoring

When you go to your local beach, take out your smart phone and log what marine debris you find. This will help NOAA assess what and where marine debris is accumulating to help better understand how we can start tackling this issue better. Hosted by Surfrider, MRC, NOAA, RE Sources.
            • Locations: Beaches near you 
            • Expected Hours: whatever works for you 
            • Trainings: none needed 
            • Dates: Whatever works for you 
            • Equipment or skills needed: Need the NOAA Marine Debris App, ID marine debris and enter into app on beach 

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.