Citizen Science

Citizen science is a term that describes projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions. These volunteers can work with scientists to identify research questions, collect and analyze data, interpret results, make new discoveries, develop technologies and applications, as well as solve complex problems.

In 2019, 10,970 of our volunteers supported national marine sanctuary citizen science efforts helping to answer real-world scientific questions with a total of 72,219 hours, which is equivalent to $1.8 million dollars or the time of approximately 40 full-time federal employees.

photo of 2 men on the beach with binoculars

Beach Watch

This monthly ecosystem assessment program is conducted by dedicated volunteers who regularly survey an assigned beach within the Greater Farallones and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries. Volunteers collect data on live and dead species of birds and marine mammals, as well as human activities. 

photo of people with binoculars birdwatching

Stellwagen Seabird Stewards Program

Expert birders or those interested in learning can help collect data on migratory seabirds in the Northeast. The citizen science data collected is used to compare the relative abundance of seabirds over time to help understand populations within this special ocean area, their possible impacts on local ecosystems and a way to detect changes in the environment.

guests at chow gala sitting

Channel Islands Naturalist Corps

A group of specially trained volunteers dedicated to educating passengers on board whale watch vessels visiting Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and National Park. Volunteers are also trained to lead island hikes within the national park, participate in numerous local outreach events and to conduct citizen science, including the collection of valuable research on marine mammals.

Carib Tails

CARIB Tails enlists yachters and cruisers to help track the movements of humpback whales between their North Atlantic feeding grounds and their breeding grounds in the Wider Caribbean Region. Your contributions of tail fluke photographs of humpback whales from the Caribbean region are critical for conservation efforts.


LiMPETS is an environmental monitoring and education program for students, educators and volunteer groups throughout California. Teachers, students and community groups along the coast of California are collecting rocky intertidal and sandy beach data in the name of science and help to protect our local marine ecosystems.


The Coastal Ocean Mammal and Bird Education and Research Surveys (Beach COMBERS) is a beach survey program using trained volunteers to survey beached marine mammals and birds monthly at selected sections of beaches throughout the Monterey Bay area in California.

photo of a whale tail

Whale Alert

Whale Alert is a free smart phone app that allows mariners and the public to help decrease the risk of injury or death to whales from ship strikes. Whale Alert depends on your increased participation and willingness to contribute observations taken while whale watching from land and at sea along the coast.

photo of two people

Washington Coast Shoreline Debris Monitoring

Volunteers collect shoreline debris data to be used to document debris deposition on Washington State’s coastline, and to the extent possible, to identify changes in debris types and volumes associated with the March 2011 Japanese tsunami debris.

Volunteers looking for humpback whales during the Sanctuary Ocean Count project on Oahu

Sanctuary Ocean Count

The Sanctuary Ocean Count project offers the community a chance to monitor humpback whales from the shores of Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi. The count is held the last Saturday of January, February, and March (during peak whale season) of each year from 8:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Snapshot Day

On the first Saturday in May, volunteers from San Mateo County to San Luis Obispo County participate in the annual Snapshot Day Event. This sanctuary-wide event provides a one-day "snapshot" of the health of the rivers and streams that flow into Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

First Flush

First Flush is an annual stormwater monitoring event during the first significant rainstorm of the season. First Flush results characterize the winter season's first storm water runoff that is flowing into Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and identifies where urban pollutant concentrations are highest. Teams of volunteers collect lab samples for analysis of nutrients, metals, bacteria and sediments. Field measurements are also collected for temperature, pH, conductivity, and transparency.

Urban Watch

Urban runoff is one of the leading sources of pollution into coastal waters. Urban Watch volunteers collect water samples and conduct basic field analysis using an EPA approved LaMotte Storm Drain Pollution Detection Kit to detect detergents and chlorine, and a Hach photometer for ammonia and orthophosphate.

Anchor program logo

ANCHOR Program

The ANCHOR (Appreciating the Nation’s Cultural Heritage and Ocean Resources) Program is a Monitor National Marine Sanctuary outreach and conservation initiative to work in partnership with dive businesses and charter operators to reduce human impacts on shipwrecks and other maritime heritage resources.

Partner Citizen Science Programs

COASST Seabird Survey

Coastal Observation and Seabrid Survey Team (COASST) is a project of the University of Washington in partnership with state, tribal and federal agencies, environmental organizations and community groups along the coasts of Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Pairs of specially trained COASST volunteers conduct monthly surveys of a particular stretch of coastline to identify carcasses of marine birds found along the coast of the Pacific Northwest.


CoastSavers is an alliance of partners and volunteers dedicated to keeping the state’s beaches clean of marine debris through coordinated beach cleanups, education and prevention. Volunteers collect debris data following The Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup data categories.

REEF Monitoring Project

The Reef Environmental Education Foundation's (REEF) Monitoring Project enlists SCUBA divers to collect meaningful data that can be used to help facilitate prudent management on marine habitats. Through this ongoing citizen-science monitoring program, volunteers conduct visual fish and invertebrate surveys along the coastal areas of North and Central America, the Caribbean, and Hawai`i, including eight national marine sanctuaries.

Reef Check

Reef Check California aims to build a network of informed and involved citizens who support the sustainable use and conservation of our nearshore marine resources. To accomplish this, volunteers are trained to carry out surveys of nearshore reefs providing data on the status of key indicator species in subtidal kelp forests.


Mote Marine Laboratory's trained volunteers collect field observations to monitor for signs of coral bleaching in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary waters and submit them to Mote staff.

Diving with a Purpose

Diving with a Purpose is a community-focused nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation and protection of submerged heritage resources by providing education, training, certification and field experience to adults and youth in the fields of maritime archaeology and ocean conservation.

illustration of icons such as coral bleaching, invasive species and mammal strandings

C-Ocean Programs

Designed by the Mote Marine Laboratory for anyone who is frequently on the water in the Florida Keys to report observations as soon as possible. There is no paperwork involved, no specialized training needed and no other participation or effort is required. By simply providing what, where and when something unusual was observed, volunteers provide scientists with the information needed to detect potentially large scale events as they develop.

girls looking out for whales

California King Tides Initiative

The California King Tides Initiative seeks to engage citizens to photograph king tides, or the highest winter tides, along the entire California coast, including bay areas, in order to raise awareness about the impacts of flooding events and potential impacts of future sea-level rise. In addition, the campaign seeks to create a rich and diverse archive of easily accessible photographs that can be used to inspire action to reduce coastal hazards and impacts from sea-level rise.

photo of a turtle

Maui Turtle Stranding Network

South Maui Marine Turtle Stranding Network Volunteers are specially trained, on-call volunteers that respond to reports of stranded, injured or dead sea turtles along South Maui Beaches (from Maʻalaea to Makena). Injured or dead turtles are shipped to the National Marine Fisheries Service in Honolulu for care or necropsy.


If you have questions related to these Citizen Science projects, please contact