Citizen Science

Citizen scientists are providing an increasingly valuable role in the collection of data, program planning, education, research and stewardship activities.

The term citizen science refers to scientific research carried out, either in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists, and is sometimes called “public participation in scientific research”.

This role is taking on greater importance as scientists and resource agencies continue to require information but often lack sufficient resources to gather it. Well-designed volunteer programs, with adequate training and protocols, are increasingly filling the gap.

We include data from citizen science organizations within the Strait of Georgia Data Centre, and some of this information takes the form of “Community Perspectives”, a videography project in which interested citizens, volunteers and persons involved in local community and stewardship groups are interviewed. These interviews are being placed on the Google Map on the Search Data/ Data Sets page.

In the Strait of Georgia, there are numerous citizen science/volunteer-based programs. These include the following:

PSF’s Citizen Science Program


To allow for oceanographic sampling and monitoring in the Strait of Georgia at a spatial scale not possible before.


This program was originally proposed by Dr. Eddy Carmack, retired scientist from the Institute of Ocean Sciences, Sidney. His concept was the creation of a “mosquito fleet” which would utilize fishing vessels to collect oceanographic data during the spring and neap tides at specific locations in coastal waters of the Strait of Georgia.  This retirees or interested persons would take on a role as citizen scientists, collecting information in different areas of the Strait on the same days each week over a period of months, such that the entire Strait could be fully sampled, providing data at a spatial and temporal degree that has not been realized or possible before. PSF has partnered with DFO, and with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) to assist with program management for the citizen science program.

IOS scientists initially divided the Salish Sea into overlapping areas that they suggested could be covered by a small boat in one or two days of sampling effort. These include:

  • Campbell River
  • Union Bay
  • Qualicum
  • Nanaimo
  • Cowichan Bay
  • Sooke
  • Lund
  • Irvine’s Landing
  • Sechelt
  • Steveston

Having citizen scientists make oceanographic measurements in each of these areas, on the same day one to three times a month between February and October, allows for complete coverage of the Strait of Georgia. The data collected will allow us to assess annual variation in the physical/chemical oceanography in the entire Salish Sea and to estimate phytoplankton biomass. These data will be very useful to modeling initiatives, and for understanding spatial and temporal changes in productivity of the Strait.

The work done on the vessels Elvis and Dr. Carmack’s vessel Wicklow in the Cowichan during 2013 and 2014 served to test equipment and refine the methodology for this program.

  • The main workhorse for the oceanographic measurements is a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) instrument which collects and stores electronic measurements of the water properties. The instrument they are using, an RBR Concerto CTD measures these properties 6 times a second as it descends through the water column from surface to maximum depth. Attached to the CTD are two auxiliary instruments: a fluorometer which measures chlorophyll content and an optode which measures oxygen content.  Fluorescence is an indicator of plankton productivity (algae growth), while oxygen is used both to trace the movement of water masses and to detect areas with low flush rates.
  • Along with the CTD profiles water samples are taken for nutrients dissolved in the seawater – these samples are analysed back in the lab. Nutrients are used to identify water from certain sources (like rivers), to diagnose the limiting factors for growth of plankton and track the movement of water masses.
  • The third element is a small plankton net intended to capture zooplankton. This net is lowered to a maximum of 150m and brought up at a specified speed to capture plankton. A flowmeter in the mouth of the net will measure the volume of water that flowed through.  Once back on board, the net is washed down with filtered seawater and the zooplankton collected from the cod end and preserved in formalin.  Again these samples are returned to the lab for analysis of abundance and species found. Currently, zooplankton samples are collected from the Baynes Sound and Sechelt boats only.
  • The fourth element is the use of a secchi disk which is used to assess water turbidity. The data collected from this part of our project will also be included as part of an international program to collect secchi disk measurements. A recent study of global phytoplankton abundance over the last century concluded that global phytoplankton concentrations have declined due to rising sea surface temperatures as a consequence of current climate change and prompted the development of an international effort to examine this Each of our citizen scientists has been provided with a tablet, and will download the free Android ‘Secchi’ application which will allow them to contribute these measurements.
  • The fifth is the collection of water samples to identify phytoplankton, as part of our examination of the spatial and temporal prevalence of harmful algae throughout the Strait of Georgia. Water samples containing phytoplankton are analyzed back at the lab and examined for harmful algal blooms.


The program was begun in February 2015, with all vessel operators fully trained to carry out the program on the first “shakedown” cruises. During 2015, the program had vessels outfitted and actively sampling the Strait of Georgia from Campbell River, Deep Bay, Qualicum, Cowichan Bay, Victoria, Lund, Powell River, Sechelt and Steveston.

Ocean Networks Canada provided a smart phone application for sample data transfer so that data can be transmitted directly to ONC, undergo QA/QC, archived and made freely available over the internet. For the first two months of the project, CTD data transfers from the instrument to the tablet and from tablet to ONC data centre created some problems, but initial issues were resolved by the ONC technical team.

In 2016 some changes were made to the program: the Victoria vessel was not continued as this area showed little seasonal variation oceanographically; instead it was replaced by a new vessel sampling out of Galiano Island. During 2016 they also implemented sampling for ocean acidity measurements on the Baynes Sound and Powell River vessels. This work was carried out in partnership with Wiley Evans of the Hakai Institute. 

The complete tally of samples collected for 2015-2017 is as follows:

Sampling Years Vessel Trips CTD casts Nutrients Collected Phytoplankton Collected Chlorophyll Collected Secchi Recordings Zooplankton Collected Total Samples  
2015 150 2,264 1,809 1,381 193 2,088 146 7,881  
2016 199 1,445 1,587 2,064 349 2,825 60 8,330  
2017 197 1,420 1,529 1,934 340 2,814 54 8,091  
3 years 546 5,129 4,925 5,379 882 7,727 260 24,302  

PSF was able to secure funding to run the Citizen Science Program for both 2018 and 2019.

Several SSMSP scientists are utilizing the citizen science data for model validation, and to address other questions as part of their programs. Examples of these programs and applications include the following:

  • Strategic Salmon Health Initiative: is there a relationship between level of stress (fish from areas temps > 17OC temp & <6ppm O2) and expression of disease states?
  • Harmful algal blooms: How does water temperature/ salinity/ DO/ nutrients affect prevalence of HABS?
  • Migration Pathways of Pacific Salmon: Is there are relationship between water quality/hotspots of plankton & migration pathways?
  • Kelp and Eelgrass Restoration: Characterizing turbidity and water properties in a number of estuaries around the Strait
  • Juvenile Salmon Studies: Relating the distribution, diet and fish size for key juvenile salmon stocks to temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen.
  • Modeling Studies and Satellite Data: Data collected by the citizen science program is being used to validate 3D biological models of the Salish Sea, and to ground-truth satellite imagery with on-ground data

All of the citizen science data are in this Strait of Georgia Data Centre. Contact is Dr. Isobel Pearsall


The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) Volunteer Survey Project is one such citizen science program. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation is a grass-roots organization that seeks to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. REEF volunteers collect distribution and abundance data on all marine fishes and a sub-set of invertebrates using a standardized visual method during diving and snorkeling activities.

This citizen science program has generated one of the largest marine life databases inthe world, with over 150,000 surveys conducted to date at thousands of sites throughout the coastal waters of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the South Pacific.

The Project, which started in the Florida Keys in 1993, was launched in the Pacific Northwest in 1998. Since then, over 700 divers have conducted 12,307 surveys over 800 sites in the Salish Sea. The program has resulted in a collaborative enterprise in which the general public engages in inquiry and investigation that results in practical management solutions. Data generated through the program have been used in a variety of conservation and management applications, including the development of the stock assessments, the assessment of marine reserve effects, and the assessment of at-risk species.

You can contact the REEF organization at this email:

SeaChange Marine Conservation Society

SeaChange is a community-based non-profit society dedicated to the conservation and restoration of marine ecosystems in British Columbia. Their mission is to protect and rehabilitate marine environments in coordination with local communities through education and advocacy. In addition, their mandate involves engaging and involving youth and communities.

SeaChange focuses on conserving and protecting eelgrass, which is among the richest, most productive of all marine communities. These emerald green undersea meadows provide habitat for a diversity of marine life, such as 80% of commercially important fish such as salmon and Pacific herring, and other marine life, such as birds, crabs and clams. These vital habitats are threatened by industrial, residential and recreational development.

Some of the mapping data can be viewed on the Community Mapping web site:

Nikki Wright is the Executive Director of the SeaChange Marine Conservation Society and can be contacted at:

The Georgia Strait Alliance

Since 1990, the Georgia Strait Alliance has been the only citizen’s group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia. They are a non-profit charitable organization that focuses work to protect the marine environment, restore the area’s water and air quality, promote sustainable communities and foster stewardship of the marine environment. They have recently developed the Georgia Strait Communities Atlas in which they provide information on community values in and around the Strait of Georgia. This includes information on conservation and sustainability, human use, communities, and the natural riches of the region.

Christianne Wilhelmson is the Executive Director of the Georgia Strait Alliance and can be contacted at:

B.C. Shore Spawners Alliance

The BC Shore Spawners Alliance is an alliance of community groups working to document and protect the intertidal spawning habitat of forage fish (surf smelt and Pacific sand lance). The BCSSA provides presentations, educational resources, protocols, training and equipment to allow for the collection of scientifically credible data.  In British Columbia scientific and stewardship efforts to manage and protect shoreline forage fish spawning habitats have been minimal. The goal of the BCSSA is to address these issues through science, education, community stewardship, and habitat restoration

Ramona de Graaf is a marine biologist, forage fish specialist, marine educator, and researcher who has been studying and surveying forage fish habitats since 2000.  She has studied marine systems from the deep sea to eelgrass, marine population genetics, cetaceans, and plankton. She is the BC Shore Spawners Alliance Coordinator and can be contacted at:

British Columbia Community Mapping Network and Western Canada Coastal Geospatial Data Management

The main objective of the CMN is to promote planning sustainable communities. Many sensitive habitats such as urban and smaller rural watercourses, eelgrass beds, riparian areas and wetlands remain unknown, poorly understood, and suffer from impacts of human development. Methods provided through CMN reflect a novel set of tools to explore and promote awareness of these habitats by mapping their location and inventorying their attributes. The awareness and commitment to local watercourses and other sensitive habitats is an important process created through co-operation of local communities, First Nations, municipalities, planners, and managers. Community mapping methods comprise a set of tools and methods that can be used to help conserve fisheries, wildlife and aquatic habitat resources throughout British Columbia.

Mapping projects

Selected information and thematic maps are available at a scale of 1:5,000 for the Georgia Basin and Central Okanagan. Province-wide coverage is available for watercourses, fish distribution, coastal resources and other themes. Four types of projects can be accessed through the CMN including: Community mapping projects: Inner Coast Natural Resource Centre, Comox Valley Project Watershed and Upper Skeena Streamkeepers, and The Georgia Strait Alliance.

British Columbia mapping projects include Sensitive Habitat Inventory and Mapping, FrogWatch, BC Wetlands, Wildlife Observations, Coastal Resources, Natural Resources Information Network, Vancouver Island Wildlife Trees, Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory, BC Watersheds, and South Coast Cutthroat.

Some details of key mapping projects are below:

i. Community Mapping Network streamlines the collection and dissemination of marine data.

ii.  contains cultural data and multimedia products.  An example of a data product is a depiction of changes in logging, wildlife populations, temperature and rainfall over time.

iii. British Columbia Marine Conservation Analysis contains ecological and human use data. This provides static maps of species distributions and habitats, and provides a richness map of combined ecological data, some downloadable data sets as well as highlighting where data are lacking.

iv. Other tools include: Burrard Inlet Environmental Action Program and the Fraser River Estuary Management Plan Atlas, Forage Fish Atlas and Data System , Eelgrass Inventory Application, Shorekeepers Monitoring Atlas, Spartina Invasive Species Mapping, and Pacific Region Contaminants Atlas.

CMN has a current proposal for a FVRD Watershed Atlas proposal.  This proposal is to consolidate water information for the Fraser River watershed, including information for some sockeye lakes.  Currently, much of this information exists as disconnected data sets that remain with government and the municipalities. The FVRD is working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Fraser Valley Watersheds Coalition to form the Fraser Valley Watersheds Program.

Another atlas being developed is being done through the Fraser River Institute to compile instream information within the gravel reaches of the Fraser Watershed- the Heart of the Fraser. Other atlases with information about sockeye include the Cowichan Valley Watershed Atlas and the Chilliwack Lake Watershed Atlas.

Key contacts for the CMN are:

Rob Knight

Director, Community Mapping Network


Brad Mason M.R.M.

Director, Community Mapping Network


Digital Fishers

Digital Fishers represents a joint project of NEPTUNE Canada and the Centre for Global Studies (both at the University of Victoria, with additional support from to use the power of crowdsourcing to help filter and annotate the large volume of video data being collected from the NEPTUNE Canada seafloor observatory. This video data is not currently amenable to machine processing, and thus, in the absence of outside assistance, NEPTUNE’s capacity would be overwhelmed. A Digital Fishers crowdsourcing option provides the possibility of using the Internet-based volunteer efforts of a large number of non-expert participants as a firstpass alternative to machine processing or analysis by experts.

Contact: Justin Longo, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network

Wild Whales is the home of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, a conservation and research program of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise Initiative, in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). They collect sightings of all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and sea turtles from British Columbia and surrounding waters.

Bird Studies Canada

Citizen scientists help assist multiple programs for Birds Canada some include, the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, Project Feeder Watch, the B.C. Coastal Waterbird Survey, Boreal Conservation Project, and the B.C.-Yukon-Northwest Territories Nocturnal Owl Survey. Volunteers watch for, identify, and record birds to provide baseline information on and monitor trends among different bird populations, and to improve understanding of how landscape changes affect wild bird habitats and populations.

The B.C. Community Bat Program

The “Got Bats?” initiative is a network of community bat projects across BC, carried out in partnership with the Ministry of Environment.
They seeks volunteers to count bats at local roost sites for the Annual Bat Count. The count will provide baseline data on bat populations before the devastating White Nose Syndrome fungal disease affects bats in the province. They also utilize volunteers to cut wood and/or build bat houses. These bat houses will be given to residents who have prime habitat on their property.

The David Suzuki Foundation’s Butterflyway Program

The project recruits volunteer rangers in multiple cities to establish and plant native wildflowers in yards, schoolyards, streets and parks to support bees and butterflies. The goal was to establish local “Butterflyways” by planting at least a dozen pollinator patches in each neighbourhood or community. The Butterflyway Project shows that a small group of residents can make a big difference in four years the project has recruited and trained 1,008 Butterflyway Rangers from over 100 communities.

E-Flora B.C.

Seeks citizen scientists for the Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia. This ongoing project is based upon vouchered and confirmed records of plant, lichen and fungi species in B.C., as well as geo-referenced photographs submitted by citizen scientists and vetted by experts.

RDN Community Watershed Monitoring Network

B.C. government researchers train citizen scientists to collect water-flow data from small streams. Dedicated community groups donate their time, attending annual training sessions, calibrating equipment and getting out on their local streams to collect and monitor water quality data. This is done to expand on the provincial database, collect enough data to see watershed trends and raise watershed health awareness in local communities.

Other useful links:

Burrard Inlet Estuary Management Program

Fraser River Estuary Management Program

Salish Sea Humpback Census

Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring

Ruby Lake Lagoon Society

The Avid Anglers

Citizen science activities in Howe Sound