Citizen Science: A Partnership Between Everyday People & Professional Scientists

Measuring TurtleLast summer, my family and I were strolling along a beach in South Carolina and noticed beautiful shells that were washing up onto the beach with each wave. The creatures would quickly burrow themselves, and their protective shells, into the wet sand. I took a few photos and posted them on Facebook. I commented, “Wow, these shells are beautiful, anybody know what they are?” Honestly, I didn’t expect much of a response. Instead, I received a number of comments about what species of marine gastropod it was and one oceanographer friend exclaimed, “I am so envious, where are you? I have always wanted to see one of those!”

The now famous Olive snail

The now famous Olive snail

I am not scientist, but I learned that my observations, questions and photos were of value to the scientists who make a living studying, tracking, and monitoring our amazing ocean life. Without knowing it, I was acting as a “citizen scientist”. Citizen science can mean anything from people simply observing natural events and characteristics to a full-fledged revolution in ‘science’ that establishes the important social role of learning about the world we live in. Citizen science can enable professionally-trained scientists to leverage the efforts of groups of people distributed widely, or a way to leverage the brains, experience, and insights of the world’s people to advance understanding.

In order for citizen science data to be used and usable, it is important that the information collected is credible and needed by scientists. Fortunately, the value of citizen science is being recognized by individuals and organizations that are in a position to get the word out. Programs are being developed by government agencies and nonprofits, like ours, to train people interested in getting involved and to develop Web-based applications where citizen scientists can share their findings.



Mote Marine Laboratory, in conjunction with the US government and numerous universities, has developed a program called the Marine Ecosystem Event Response and Assessment Program (MEERA). MEERA is a community-based reporting network, which enables ANYONE on the water to report on unusual biological events in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and surrounding waters. Another online tool, supported by the National Geographic Society and called Project Noah, enables nature lovers and citizen scientists to explore and document their natural world. These tools are a powerful source of information that can be used for science research and educational programs that promote wildlife awareness and preserve biodiversity.

In tandem with our geotourism based programs, the Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation (MOSF) is developing training and participatory programs that enable ocean lovers to get involved in hands-on citizen science activities. All of our programs are marine conservation focused and include activities ranging from the identification and protection of sea turtle nesting locations to scuba diving trips on which divers help reduce the population of invasive species, like the lionfish, on coral reefs. MOSF’s first geotourism and citizen science programs are already being developed and will be launched in the Caribbean region.

Turtle Research

Turtle Research

Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology has an established citizen-science program that has more than 200,000 individual people contributing data each year; data collection on this vast of a scale was only recently unimaginable. Cornell’s scientists are using these data to determine how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, and disease. They trace bird migration and document long-term changes in bird numbers across the North American continent. The results have been used to create management guidelines for birds, investigate the effects of acid rain and climate change, and advocate for the protection of declining species.

Citizen science is very important! It helps scientists attain information and answer questions about topics that they may not have the resources to collect on their own. Citizen science encompasses a broad range of topics, geographic settings, and strategies. Some projects are confined to a single species and locations, like loggerhead sea turtles on an specific island in the Bahamas, while others are global in scope. On any scale, citizen science creates opportunities for people of all ages to connect with the natural world, gain scientific skills, and learn key science concepts.SharkTagging

Galapagos Penguins

I don’t know about you, but when I think of penguins, I think of cute little birds in tuxedos playing in the snow. I recently learned that there are actually penguins that live in the tropics, right near the equator in the Galapagos Islands.Tropical Penguin

There several islands in the Galapagos archipelago (a group of islands), but the penguins seem to stay mostly on the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela. They probably stay on these islands because there is a current of colder water that runs along their shores called the Cromwell Current.

Galapagos Penguin SwimmingA survey done in the 1970s estimated that there were around 10,000 of these penguins, but current surveys show that there are only about 1,000 breeding pairs left. Scientists think that about 77% of the population died in 1982 and 1983 when the islands experienced unusual weather, which caused a food shortage for the penguins. They seem to be slowly rebuilding their population.

Galapagos penguins are pretty small, they only weigh about 2 kg (4.5 lbs.) – about the weight of a pineapple. They only get to be about 49cm tall, that’s less than 2 feet. They have a large bill and a narrow white line around the face. Their backs are grey and black and their belly is white.

Galápagos Penguin Galápagos IslandsThe penguins mostly eat small fish like mullet and sardines. Unfortunately, because they are so small they have many predators. On land, crabs, snakes, owls, and hawks pick on the little penguins; in the sea, sharks, fur seals, and sea lions can attack them. It can be a rough life, but these penguins seem to enjoy their tropical paradise.


Click here for a link to a teacher resource on the Galapagos Penguin.


Watch to learn more about the Galapagos Penguins


Galapagos Penguins trying to catch dinner


Seeing Positive Impacts First Hand

students learning marine scienceThe Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation (MOSF) is raising funds to acquire its first ocean-going research vessel. The acquisition of this vessel is a critical step in the success of MOSF, enabling the movement of our staff of educators, researchers, scientists, journalists, and videographers. This new vessel will allow MOSF and its guests to visit both remote and developed coastal areas worldwide.

An important element of our education mission is a program in which we will sponsor K-12 teachers and college-level marine science students to join us on expeditions. By getting out in the field, our guests will expand their understanding of marine habitats and conservation work going on throughout the world. Our goal is to give teachers and future marine scientists hands-on experience that they can take back to their students and colleagues at home.

By traveling and working with locals across the globe, MOSF can dig deeper into what is working, and what isn’t, in their marine communities.

Research VesselMOSF is committed to working with local teachers, students, and community groups. Through outreach programs like this, people will gain a better understanding of how they are affecting their marine habitats and how they can get involved to assure their long-term health and sustainability.

In our search for a vessel, we are focusing on safety, functionality, fuel and environmental efficiency, and range. The vessel will ideally be between 65 to 85 feet in length and able to accommodate 6 to 15 full-time crew. A range of 3,000 to 6,000 nautical miles is desired along with the ability to reach remote locations under its own power.

It is very important to consider the safety of crew members both in transit and upon arrival at any port of harbor. video research workFunctionality of the areas aboard the vessels for research, living, gear, and diving are paramount. In order minimize costs and impact to the environment, we are carefully considering fuel efficiency and the ability to minimize waste. While no vessel can meet 100% of any need defined, it is important to find vessels that meet as many criteria as possible.

Getting out and meeting with individuals, organizations, and businesses that are engaged in successful marine conservation projects is a fundamental goal. A second is providing educational outreach programs and working with teachers and students globally to share the wonders of our oceans and inspire future generations to be good stewards of our oceans. We sincerely hope that this vessel will be the first of many that we will bring into our organization.



The Mystery of the Ocean

giantsquitgraphicfactf320x301You would think an animal the size of a school bus would be easy to find. Yet the giant squid, which weighs over a ton and is over 42 feet in length, is still one of the biggest mysteries of the ocean. Scientists all over the world are trying to learn more about this elusive animal. Part of the reason that so little is known about them is because they live in the deepest parts of the ocean. They are so deep that it takes about 2 hours to go up and down in a submarine. It has only been recently that they have had technology advanced enough to go that deep and it is still very expensive.

A giant squid’s body may look pretty simple – like other squid and octopus, it has two eyes, a beak, eight arms, two feeding tentacles, and a funnel. The eye of a giant squid is a big as a dinner plate. The main part of the body is called the mantle. On the underside of the body is the funnel. The squid pumps water through the funnel to move through the water, to lay eggs, and to squirt ink. Feeding tentacles can catch prey up to 330 feet away. They also have sharp tooth suckers at the end of their tentacles.


Giant suckers

Giant squid feed on deep-water fish and other squid. Once they catch food with the suckers and teeth on their feeding tentacles, they pull it back to their body and their beak. The beak breaks the food down into smaller pieces first and then they use the radula, a tongue-like organ with teeth, to grind it up more. The food then goes into the esophagus, which travels through the squid’s brain, to the stomach. Although giant squid do not have many predators, remains of them have been found in the stomachs of sperm whales.

architeuthis beak 32xx258


It is believed that giant squid live for 3 to 5 years, but this is just an educated guess by scientists. During their life, giant squid only reproduce once. Females release millions of tiny, transparent fertilized eggs into the water in a jellied clump called an egg mass. They need to make lots of eggs because other marine animals quickly eat most of the eggs that are released.

It is believed that the giant squid live in all four of our oceans, but none have ever been seen in tropical or polar regions. They are usually found near continental and island slopes. Although there is so little known about the giant squid, there are multiple studies in progress right now. In 2012, researchers in Japan were able to capture video of a living giant squid for the first time. Using flashing lights to mimic bioluminescent jellyfish, they were able to attract a giant squid to the camera in a submarine. Scientists are learning more and more about these mysterious squid every day.


Architeuthis distribution

Click here for a link to lesson plans and activities on Giant Squid (Architeuthis dux).

The first video of a giant squid ever!

How they found the giant squid.