Citizen scientists monitor the sea

How can you keep track of something as vast as the ocean?

Unless you can see them from a satellite, the organisms living in the ocean have a way of staying hidden. No amount of funding, ship activity, or good intentions can provide a large overview, especially over a long time.

Despite these difficulties, it is important to have a global perspective if we hope to understand how communities might be changing over time. Once again, maybe the internet can provide a solution. Tapping into the global population of people who are experiencing the environment around them is a powerful way of multiplying the number of observers who contribute to a data set.

Many researchers have turned to the web as a way of tapping into this vast pool of eyes around the world. There are citizen science groups to monitor almost anything you can think of:  squirrels, snowfall, fishes, mushrooms, bees, birds, snakes, fireflies, and now even jellyfish.

Many of these projects are collected at the site This is a great place for teachers and interested members of the community to go, in order to participate in scientific research.

Our group has recently joined the party and launched to enlist citizen scientists to monitor what is going on in their beaches. The response has been inspiring, with reports coming in from across Europe, Africa, the Mideast, Asia, and the Americas. These are all places that would be difficult to monitor even, even with access to many resources.

The jellywatch site also allows people to view all the sightings and download the contents of the entire database for their own projects. This open access to data inspires people to feel a connection to their environment and their contributions to our understanding of the sea.

Take a moment to view the list of projects at ScienceForCitizens, and see if there is a relevant project that can use your observations from your community, beach, or backyard.

Jellyfish under water
Jellyfish drift in the Monterey Bay. Image credit: MBARI
April 7, 2010

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