Tag Archives: Citizen Science

Julia’s Travels to Maine

Greetings from Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine, where I’m spending a week at a citizen science workshop.  The beaches here are bouldery and small – kind of like a combination between Alaska and the San Juan Islands.

The beaches of Maine – reminiscent of some parts of Southeast Alaska.

Don’t know that carcasses would last long here with no sand to grab onto them when the tide goes out.  And it does go out – there’s a 12 foot tidal range here.  Although I didn’t see any beached birds, I did get a gander at some live ones, Black Guillemots, Surf Scoters and Common Eiders bobbed just offshore of Schoodic Point, where I walked every day.  All in all, this coastline is wild and pristine.

Trail to Schoodic Point

The workshop focused on documenting how citizen science can be used in natural resource management and decision-making.  Turns out that we’re not the only bunch of folks interested in creating baseline and monitoring change.  I met Jake Weltzin, of the National Phenology Network, and caught up with COASST Advisory Board member Tina Phillips from the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell.  We all worked together to craft a set of guidelines marrying attributes of the data collection with end use of program information.
For instance, if the end use is scientific monitoring, then aspects of data quality (like a standard method of data collection, and a method of verification) are preferred.  If the end use is as evidence in a court of law, then those same things are required.  Because COASST was started as a way to create a baseline against which oil spills can be assessed, we’ve attained the highest level of rigor.  In fact, we’re a model program others want to copy.
Stay tuned for the final document (it will be a paper in the journal Issues in Ecology) sometime next year.  Don’t know that it will be a page turner (!) but I’m betting it will make lots of folks in the natural resource management community think about how they might use citizen science.  And COASST will be one of the highlights.

Volunteer Mosaic

Last month we went to a talk by climate scientist Dr. Kevin Wood – he’s a part of the “old weather” team at the NOAA-University of Washington Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Ocean (JISAO – rhymes with cow), and saw this really cool visual which displays total volunteer effort (in this case, logbook pages digitized) in one rectangle.  Each box within the rectangle is a participant and the size (or area) of the box is scaled to the percent of total effort. Colors allow the viewer to distinguish one box from another.

For the COASST visual, we decided to use color to display the year each COASSTer joined. Here’s a simplified version:

click here for large version

Colors indicate when each person joined (year 1, year 2 or year 3). The size of each box is scaled to the total amount of time each person has surveyed. At the top left is someone who joined in Year 1 and contributed LOTS of time, about 20% of all survey effort shown (over all 21 squares). Toward the bottom right are participants with less time invested in surveying, including one we point out who joined in Year 2 and has contributed about 1% of the total survey effort. Standing back, it’s easy to see a color gradient which reflects that participants who began in Year 1 (red) tend to have contributed more – on average – than those who only just started in Year 3 (yellow).

Here’s what the actual COASST survey effort visual looks like, over the last fifteen years and all 2,112 people who have gotten out there to collect data for us:

Click here for large version

Green and blue years are earliest, so it is not surprising that these “old folks” dominate the upper left.

The very largest box represents about 1.8% of the total time, and you can see that there are plenty of folks who joined in the late 2000s and have already racked up the hours!  Harmful algal blooms, puffin die-offs, grebe mortality – there is always something pulling COASSTers out to do extra surveys.

Small boxes don’t mean slackers!  Lots of incoming COASSTers (yellow) are toward the bottom right – our program continues to grow.  Many of the small boxes are inside waters COASSTers – with short beaches and nary a bird in sight, it’s just not possible to amass the hours of the “birdy beach” volunteers.

In fact, each COASSTer contributes their piece to the COASST whole – all of us together make COASST successful and sustainable, and now, colorful!


COASSTer Receives National Service Award

Nancy Messmer and Roy Norris, recipients of the 2013 National Marine Sanctuaries Volunteer of the Year Award.

Congratulations are in order to Nancy Messmer (and Roy Morris) who earned the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Volunteer of the Year Award, to be celebrated on June 4, 2013 in Washington DC. This husband/wife team has cumulatively donated over 500 hours to Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary activities in 2012. Nancy, a COASST volunteer since 2010, has logged over 134 hours (not including travel!) on 74 surveys at four different beaches: Hobuck, Hoko West, Island View, and Sekiu River West. Sixty nine birds found – way to go Nancy and Roy!

Spotlight on Burke Ornithology

COASST volunteers may think they’re the only people that pay attention to dead birds, but it turns out they’re not alone!

Recently our local NPR station, KUOW, profiled citizens collecting dead birds (with proper permit) from their backyard (and surrounds) for the Ornithology Collection at the Burke Museum. Each year, the collection receives about 500 birds from citizens (window strikes, vehicle strikes, cat kills etc). As a whole, the specimens (all 99,000 of them!) – archived as skins, outstretched wings, and tissue samples – provide a valuable resource to scientists.

Seabird scientists, too! Dr. Ann Edwards used the collection to answer, “have fisheries discards shaped the diet of Laysan Albatross?” by sampling Laysan feathers from museum specimens, current NW Hawaiian Island breeders and bycatch specimens from Hawaii and Alaska longline fisheries.

Rob Faucett, Collections Manager, helps assist a variety of outreach and education projects, in addition to research. In the creation of Beached Birds-Alaska and more recently, the Wing Key, we’ve accessed the collection to answer our own questions – can you really tell Thick-billed and Common Murres apart by wing alone (answer: no). Can you separate a storm-petrel wing from a small alcid (answer: yes, the outermost primary is more than a feather’s width shorter than the next). And after hours of pouring over these birds, we can’t resist having a little fun (see below).

December 2012 Dovekie Wreck in New York

In December of 2012 a bird wreck was reported along the coast of New York. The unlucky species was the dovekie, also known as the little auk. Beached dovekies were reported along the shore, in parking lots, fields and even yards. Wildlife rehabilitation centers as well as local veterinarians reported admitting record numbers of dovekies that had injuries ranging from neurological dysfunction to severe trauma. Unfortunately aquatic birds are difficult to rehabilitate as they require special housing, feeding and handling due to their adaptations for life at sea instead of on land. Of the 22 injured dovekies one wildlife rehabilitation center sheltered, only one survived to be released back into the wild.

In an effort to better understand the origin of massive bird wrecks such as this, wildlife health specialists advise recording all conditions present at the time of a wreck so that these observations can be used to better understand and predict future wrecks. One way that you can get involved in monitoring the health of your local environment is by volunteering with a wildlife health monitoring network, such as WHER. WHER stands for “Wildlife Health Event Reporter” and is an online application that allows you to report observations of questionable wildlife health in your area. For more information visit their website at http://www.wher.org.

For more articles and pictures concerning the December 2012 dovekie wreck see links below!







Blue Ribbon for COASST

Thanks to volunteer Kathy Linnell a COASST informational poster earned first prize at the Washington State Garden Show. Other contestants submitted posters on urban chickens, bird house building and blue herons. Way to go Kathy!

Seabird Lessons | Pribilof Seabird Youth Network

The Seabird Youth Network is an amazing partnership between schools, tribal government and the scientific community on the Pribilof Islands of Alaska. Their site profiles local seabirds and presents easy to follow lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom. It looks like a lot of fun to me! Great job seabird youth network!


Canine COASSTers!

COASST Citizen Science Spotlight

COASST has been recognized in the citizen science edition of the online journal “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment”.

Here is what they have to say about us:

Citizen science engages non-professionals in authentic scientific research, ranging from long-standing, large-scale projects like the Breeding Bird Survey to the more personalized research experiences offered by the Earthwatch Institute. The combination of historical data and assembly of a large, dispersed team of observers creates opportunities for ecological research at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales. Many ecologically based citizen-science projects collect important baseline data, which positions them to respond to crises such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Other projects routinely monitor mortality in a particular population or species, helping to identify threats to native species and to people (eg Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team [COASST]). Dispersed data collection and the ability to collect observations and connect with people, in places, and at scales that would otherwise not be possible, render citizen science increasingly important to environmental research.

Today, the internet and geographic information system-(GIS-) enabled web applications allow participants to collect large volumes of location-based ecological data and submit them electronically to centralized databases. The ubiquity of smartphones, the potential for digital photo validation of questionable observations (eg COASST; WebTable 1), and the development of infrastructure for creating simple online data-entry systems (eg www.citsci.org; Table 1) provide added potential for initiating projects quickly, inexpensively, and with stringent criteria to ensure data accuracy. These same web-based tools are democratizing project development, allowing for the creation of data-entry systems for community-based projects that arise out of local, practical issues or needs (eg Extreme Citizen Science; WebTable 1). Although we cannot currently assess the impact of this democratization for ecological research, such empowerment means that resource management decisions, and the data that drive them, are more likely to be in the hands of the people who will be affected by the outcomes.

Read More: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/full/10.1890/110236