Eight citizen science projects for your day at the beach (one for every day of your beach week + a bonus)
Do you have one (or several!) of those kids just itching to be future marine scientists? It’s time to take the beach day up one more notch. Here are some citizen science projects that will definitely be lots of fun for the whole family. Trust me … they’re free and easy!
Field Photo: The Field Photo App allows you take photos during your trips to the beach (or even field trips) and geotag them and add metadata and field notes to the photos. The field photos are then uploaded where people share, visualize and archive field photos that document land use and land cover change, flood, drought, fire, and so on.
Great Eggcase Hunt Project: The Great Eggcase Hunt aims to get as many people as possible hunting for eggcases that have either been washed ashore (or are found by divers and snorkelers underwater). The empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) are an easily accessible source of information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds and will provide the Trust with a better understanding of species abundance and distribution. While it originated in the UK over a decade ago, The Shark Trust has been collecting data in the US since 2003.
Jellywatch: Have you seen a jellyfish, red tide, a squid, or other unusual marine life recently? If so, tell them about it! Marine biologists need your help to develop a better understanding of the ocean. You can help us even more by submitting a picture of what you saw!
Osprey Watch: OspreyWatch is a global community of observers focused on documenting breeding osprey. There is no charge to participate and we welcome new volunteers to the program.
Ringed-Billed Gulls: In 2013, researchers from MIT and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation started using the same scheme as the project originators in Canada using blue or red plastic bands and 3 codes to band ring-billed sea gulls. Nearly 700 birds have been marked.
If you observed one of these banded gulls, you can report your sighting using an online form.
Secchi Dip-In: The Secchi Dip-In is a demonstration of the potential of volunteers to monitor and gather environmentally important information on our lakes, rivers and estuaries. The concept of the Dip-In is simple: individuals in volunteer monitoring programs take a transparency measurement on one day during the month of July (but, they accept data after the deadline as well).
Wildlife Health Event Reporter: The Wildlife Health Event Reporter allows you to observe and record events that may identify important changes in the environment. It’s an experimental tool that hopes to harness the power of the many eyes of the public to better detect these changes.
- Antarctic Art Contest: Students and professionals alike are invited to submit written or visual pieces about the WAIS Divide. Specifically, it’s suggested that pieces focus on water isotopes, CO2 and methane gases, radar imagery, or imagery of ice samples. Deadline is October 1st.
- Children’s Art Mangrove Calender: Elementary-aged school children invited to create art expressing “Why mangroves are important to my community and me”. Deadline is July 31st.
- National Marine Sanctuary “Classic”: This photography contest runs from July 4th-September 7th. Each week one winner is selected and at the end thirteen winners receive scholarships. Photos are based on all or a combination of: Kids Fishing, Kids and Family Values, Kids in the Outdoors, Kids in the Sanctuaries and Kids’ Conservation within each individual National Marine Sanctuary.
- “Nature Investigators” Contest: There is one photography contest specific for environmental educators and then a writing and art contest for the kids. Deadline for both is August 14th.
- Ranger Rick’s Photo Contest: This is an ongoing photography contest for kids 13 years old and under.
Reported on the Baltimore Sun’s B’More Green blog, “Consumer products such as toothpaste and cosmetic scrubs containing tiny plastic “microbeads” could be banned from store shelves in Maryland after 2018 under a bill unanimously approved Thursday by the state Senate”. These means that if the bill passes the House, “Maryland will be the second state after Illinois to order a phase-out of the manufacture or sale of consumer products containing the beads”.
What is a microbead? It’s a tiny particle of plastic that never break down. What’s incredibly harmful is that they are being drained into local streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and ocean and affecting our waterways. There are over 50 products on the shelves in the US that contain harmful microbeads! Find a list of products sold in the United States that contain microbeads (i.e., polythene) here.
Here is some alarming information on the microbeads, marine debris, and our ocean trash in general.
- A single tube of facial cleanser can contain over 3000,000 microbeads.
- More than 450,000 microbeads per square kilometer were found in some parts of Lake Erie.
- In the ocean there are approximately 5.25 trillion plastic particles.
- For every foot of coastline there is approximately five grocery bags filled with plastic, according to estimates in 2010.
- Six continents have microfibers washing up on their shores.
- Shores near sewage treatment plants have the highest concentration of microfibers washing up.
- Nearly 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated by coastal countries in 2010 — and that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that plastic made its way to the oceans.
- Each year, 8.8 million tons of plastic goes into the oceans.
- The estimate for 2015 is 9.1 million metric tons.
- On average, Americans use 220 pounds of plastic per year.
- 17% of all marine animals impacted by manmade debris are threatened or near threatened.
- Trash will likely increase tenfold over the next decade.
On Feb. 13, 1997, about 20 miles off the coast of England, a massive wave hit the freighter Tokio Express, toppling 62 giant containers into the rough north Atlantic seas.
Trapped inside one of them: nearly 5 million Legos. Many floated to the surface. Carried by currents, they’re still being found on beaches around the world nearly two decades later. Others remain on the ocean floor. It’s not unusual for fishermen trawling the Atlantic to haul up tiny Legos.
The fact that so many of the pieces were nautical themed – sea dragons, pirate swords, sea grass and scuba gear, among others – has turned the Lego spill into one of the most famous and unusual marine debris incidents in recent maritime history.
In Newquay, a seaside town in England, writer and longtime beachcomber Tracey Williams started a Facebook page a few years ago – Legos Lost at Sea – that tracks the whereabouts of the lost Legos as they wash up onto beaches.
Williams recently spoke to the Beach Chair Scientist blog about her work, and you can hear more of what she has to say below. But she hopes to turn the public fascination, much of it generated from a recent BBC story on the spill, into a teaching moment about the harmful environmental impact of marine debris.
“Clearly, 5 million pieces of Legos spilling into the ocean isn’t good for the environment,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. After the BBC interviewed her about her site a while back, the publicity resulted in people contacting her with stories about beach-bound Legos around the world.
“It has connected beachcombers all around the world, which is fascinating,” Williams said.
She received one report of a Lego flipper found on an Australian beach. She’s also heard from the family of a woman who had scoured the beaches for Lego dragons as a hobby in her 80s, passing her finds along t0 younger generations.
“Obviously, marine debris is a big problem. But I think many children have been captivated by this whole Lego story … I think it reminds people of their childhood. It’s the whole issue of marine debris. Oceanographers are interested in how far it’s spread.”
Meanwhile, she also hears from fishermen who come across Lego pieces in their nets.
“Half of it sinks and half of it floats,” Williams said, referring to the sorts of Legos that fell off the Tokio Express. “So clearly, while we’re finding certain items washed up on our shores like the spear guns and the flippers, fishermen are actually finding other pieces like window frames and car chassis.”
While the lost Legos have made for fun beach combing and treasure hunts, there are bigger questions beneath the surface. If the contents of just one toppled shipping container can spread around the world for decades, what about far bigger and more dangerous spills that go unnoticed because they don’t happen to have Legos in them?
“There were 62 containers that fell off the Tokio Express back in 1997 and we only know about what was in three of them,” Williams said.
“What’s in all of the others and when will that all wash ashore?”
You can listen to more of Williams and the story of the lost Legos here: