**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>

Through the California Citizen Science Initiative, we’re beginning to feel confident that we have identified all of the marine-related citizen science activity in the Central Coast – that’s from Pigeon Point to Point Conception. We filled out our list through a web search and fleshed it out using this database, our colleagues’ knowledge of the field and conversations with program leaders in many of these groups. We’ve go an even 30! If we’ve missed one, however, please let us know! Also, if you live in the Central Coast and want to get involved, check out the program websites. Whether you like walking on the beach, scuba diving, fishing, flying airplanes, or playing on your smartphone, there’s a group for you. Photo credit: Allen Fish, GGRO.

Beach Watch
Black Oystercatcher Monitoring (Audubon)
California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program
California King Tides
Elkhorn Slough algae monitoring
Elkhorn Slough Nestbox Monitoring
Elkhorn Slough otter monitoring
Elkhorn Slough Shorebird monitoring

First Flush – Monterey Bay
Grunion Greeters
Leatherback Watch
Marine Debris Tracker
Morro Bay Volunteer Monitoring Program
Otter Project – MPA Watch
Phytoplankton Monitoring Network
Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)
REEF volunteer surveys
ReefCheck CA
Save Our Shores Beachkeepers
Shark Savers Sharks Count
Surfrider Blue Water Task Force
Urban Watch – Monterey Bay

We had 28 of these groups when we did our initial description of these programs. We know from that exercise that the groups cover all kinds of demographics and program types. But here’s a MPA monitoring-relevant spin on that survey: how do the activities of these groups line up with MPA monitoring information needs in the Central Coast? The exact indicators for monitoring are currently being updated, but we can still think about what kinds of data align generally with the MPA monitoring framework.

To imagine what the monitoring plan for the Central Coast might look like, let’s use the Ecosystem Features identified in the North Central Coast MPA Monitoring Plan. These ecosystem features target habitat types and human activities that represent and encompass a region. Note that while we’re talking about ecosystem features here, each ecosystem feature will have key attributes, indicators, and vital signs provided within it. These are still being developed for the Central Coast with the input of scientists and other stakeholders, and therefore we have yet to see how these citizen science groups will map onto those indicators.

In short, this is merely a hypothetical (if instructive) exercise.

With that said, here are North Central Coast ecosystem features with Central Coast citizen science groups mapped onto them. We want to see the breadth of citizen science activity across California’s ecosystem types, which will provide clues as to which aspects of ocean health citizens are good at keeping track of and which might be more challenging.

kelp and shallow rock ecosystems

  • California Collaborative Fisheries Program – recreational catch
  • iSeahorse – seahorses
  • REEF volunteer surveys – fish, invertebrates, and algae
  • ReefCheck CA – fish, invertebrates, algae, habitat

rocky intertidal ecosystems

  • Black Oystercatcher Monitoring (Audubon)
  • LiMPETS – invertebrates

deep rock ecosystems

  • California Collaborative Fisheries Program – recreational catch

estuarine ecosystems

  • Elkhorn Slough algae monitoring
  • Elkhorn Slough otter monitoring
  • Elkhorn Slough nestbox monitoring
  • Elkhorn Slough shorebird monitoring
  • Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)
  • Morro Bay Volunteer Monitoring Program

soft-bottom intertidal and beach ecosystems

  • Grunion Greeters – CA grunion
  • LiMPETS – mole crabs
  • Phytoplankton Monitoring Network – harmful algae

soft-bottom subtidal ecosystems

pelagic ecosystems

  • Beach COMBERS – beach cast birds and mammals
  • Beach Watch – beach cast birds
  • Jellywatch – jellyfish
  • Leatherback Watch – leatherback sea turtles

consumptive use & non-consumptive human uses

  • Lighthawk – aerial flights for science
  • MPA Watch – human use observations
  • Beach Watch – human use observations

Some of these groups do not fit directly into a particular ecosystem feature, but they may still provide valuable contextual information that cuts across the ecosystem features:

oceanographic variables

  • California King Tides

water quality

  • First Flush – Monterey Bay
  • Surfrider Blue Water Task Force
  • Urban Watch – Monterey Bay
  • Morro Bay Volunteer Monitoring Program

wide-ranging species like apex predators

  • iNaturalist – lots of programs, largely charismatic creatures
  • Shark Savers – sharks
  • SharkWatch – sharks
  • SPLASH – humpbacks and other whales

marine debris

  • Beach Watch
  • Marine Debris Tracker
  • Save our Shores Beachkeepers

Citizens go to almost every habitat type (though deeper is more difficult) and find ways to track ecosystem metrics in all of those places. Several programs investigate multiple ecosystem features. This landscape is also a shifting one, as some programs end their investigation and new ones begin. This large capacity of citizen science activity lays a healthy foundation for monitoring marine protected areas in the future. The challenge is to see if we can find conducive ways to support ongoing monitoring efforts while simultaneously meeting the needs of volunteers. What shape will future partnerships take as they emerge from this foundation? Stay tuned.