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 2023, 4,753 of our volunteers supported national marine sanctuary citizen science efforts helping to answer real-world scientific questions with a total of 36,020 hours, which is equivalent to $1.15M or the time of 20 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.

photo of a whale tail

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.

people on the beach


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.

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Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP)

In support of national efforts to understand marine debris, volunteers can participate in the NOAA Marine Debris Program Monitoring and Assessment Project. MDMAP engages NOAA community partners and volunteers around the world to survey and record the amount and types of macro-sized marine debris (roughly the size of a bottle cap or larger) on shorelines.

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.

A volunteer taking notes

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.

A volunteer examining storm water samples

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.

Volunteers examining marine debris

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.

Lionfish Invitational statitics

Flower Garden Banks Lionfish Invitational

In recent years, lionfish derbies have served to raise awareness of the invasive lionfish problem and remove large quantities of lionfish throughout the tropical western Atlantic Ocean. The Lionfish Invitational is a four-day event that is a science-based research expedition in which 11 dive teams work to remove as many lionfish as possible, while also recording helpful data on lionfish activity and sightings. In addition, a science team of 8 divers conducts surveys to determine what species, quantities and sizes of fish are present at each designated site before and after the removals.

Diver looking at the camera

Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys

Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys is a community-led program developed in the wake of Hurricane Irma in 2017 to address the threat of marine debris to ecosystems within South Florida. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation are working with local tour operators and other businesses to identify and remove marine debris throughout the Florida Keys.

Manta Ray

Manta Ray Identification in Flower Garden Banks

Manta rays, Manta birostris, are popular visitors to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary team has developed a photo catalog of manta rays seen at the Flower Garden Banks. If you spot a manta ray, and are able to get a photo or video of the underside, NOAA can compare it to other images and reports. Individual manta rays can be identified by the characteristic spot patterns on their bellies. Download the animal sighting form here.

Monterey Bay Plankton Citizen Science

Participants conduct meaningful citizen science on phytoplankton, zooplankton and microplastics along the California coast. Data collected is added to NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science phytoplankton database.

Wanted Alive! White Abalone Initiative

White abalone (Haliotis sorenseni) are on the brink of extinction, but recreational SCUBA divers may play a crucial role in saving this species. The Wanted Alive! White Abalone Initiative seeks to inform recreational and scientific scuba divers about white abalone natural history, and to provide the tools necessary to positively identify these cryptic creatures on rocky reefs across the Southern California Bight.

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.

photo of coral and fish

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.

photo of a healthy coral and bleached coral


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.

photo of a diver

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.

Sanctuary landscape logo

Sanctuary Soundscapes

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation invites you to discover the wonders of the Atlantic Ocean by listening to the acoustic soundscape recordings in the NOAA underwater sound monitoring study. Citizen Scientists and students of all ages can take a deep dive into data analysis by registering to volunteer for the Gray's Reef Sanctuary Soundscapes project.

marine invasive specie

Marine Invasives

Help oversee the monitoring of invasive seaweeds that have invaded coastal and island reefs of California. We encourage you to help keep track of these invasions by reporting your sightings when you find them.

Manta Ray

Coral Restoration Foundation

The Coral Restoration Foundation is dedicated to creating offshore nurseries and restoration programs for threatened coral species in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Volunteers assist with raising, outplanting, and caring for "home grown" corals.

Big tides hitting on a stairwell

California King Tides

The California King Tides Project helps us visualize future sea level by observing the highest tides of today. You can help by taking and sharing photos of the shoreline during King Tides to create a record of changes to our coast and estuaries.

seafan logo


The Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN) is a reporting and response system designed to improve the protection and management of Florida's Coral Reef. Divers and snorkelers in the Florida Keys can assist in monitoring the effectiveness of experimental treatments on diseased corals.

Ph testing bottle

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

A partnership between the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network offers a citizen science monitoring program at Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary focused on bacteria levels to achieve the goal of a swimmable Potomac River.


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