Citizen Scientists Using Smartphones Document Coastal Biodiversity 

This June, a series of low tides along the California Coast coinciding with World Oceans Day inspired an ambitious plan: to host a series of citizen science BioBlitzes across California’s 1100 mile coast.

Hundreds of volunteers descended on their local tide pools, using smartphones to take photographs of sea life and upload them to the iNaturalist app – “a sort of Instagram for nature nerds” according to Humboldt Collaborative Co-Chair Delia Bense Kang, who helped organize Humboldt County’s two bioblitzes.

Once on iNaturalist, these photos became part of an extensive, online body of knowledge about California’s ocean and coastal habitat and wildlife – and provided a snapshot of the vast biodiversity along our coast during a small window of time.

California Academy of Sciences biologists Rebecca Johnson and Alison Young hatched this ambitious plan to hold a series of Bioblitzes across the California Coast – but they needed a partner.

MPA Collaborative Network staff Paul Hobi and Calla Allison worked to connect the dots. Together, they worked with members of all 14 MPA collaboratives to plan 22 events along the coast.

All told, nearly 400 people participated and made over 7,000 observations of species along the coast – 35 of which were new to iNaturalist. It would take one biologist years to make this many observations. Using our network of collaboratives and a team of awesome volunteers, we did this in one week.

Biologists working at California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Ocean Science Trust were able to give volunteers guidance on species to look for – and data they collected is available to help contribute to MPA monitoring and management.

The Bioblitzes inspired people to enjoy a day on the coast and do something meaningful to help understand our ocean.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate World Oceans Day.

Thanks to the hundreds of people who organized and attended events, shared their photos, and identified finds, and to Resources Legacy Fund for their generous support of this project.

Read more: USC Sea Grant’s Pelican Cove Bioblitz; Seymour Center’s Allison Gong’s efforts at Natural Bridges