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.

Image (c) The Shark Trust

Image (c) The Shark Trust

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!

Marine Debris Tracker: The simple tool allows users to report the type of debris and its location through GPS features pre-installed on a cell phone. (Check out this list of apps for the beach, too!)

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.

Image (c) Andrew Baksh

Image (c) Andrew Baksh

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.

15 facts about the Portuguese man-of-war that’ll have you saying “Didya know…?”

I won’t say it has anything to do with us … oh, wait … yes, I will. The ocean is getting warmer because of climate change. One effect of this would be that many animals that pretty much only preferred the luxurious tropical waters of the south Atlantic now find the Mid-Atlantic waters great! Oh, fun. Except in the case of the man-of-war this summer. That’s got a lot of folks sketched out and seems to be putting a damper on beach days. Well, at least there’s the opportunity to learn something new … because that’s what summer’s all about, right? Here is a list of fifteen surprising facts about the man-of-war (Number twelve is shockingly cool!):

  1. The man-of-war is not a jellyfish. They’re a siphonophore, a single animal made of a colonial of organisms working together (e.g., coral colony).
  2. The man-of-war is made up of four polyps. The top one is a brilliantly purple, blue, or pink gas-filled float. When the top polyp (i.e., “sail”) is filled with gas it looks like the 18th century Portuguese war ship at full mast.
  3. The top polyp is like an umbrella for the others polyps that are bunched under it. One is made up tentacles full of stinging cells (i.e., nematocysts). They’re used to catch prey such as smaller fish, plankton, and crustaceans.
  4. The tentacles with the stinging cells can get to be 165 feet (that’s longer than a blue whale!) long, but are more on average about 50 feet.
  5. Man-of-war are asexual. That’s right … not a man or a woman! One polyp is responsible for all that action. If you’re counting, that’s three of the four polyps. Can you guess what the fourth is responsible for? Digestion.
  6. The gas that the man-of-war is filled with is Argon. That’s number 18 on the atomic table.
  7. The man-of-war (or, man-o-war) is also sometimes called the bluebottle.
  8. People have died from trying to swim into shore after getting stung by them. However, the sting itself will most likely not kill a human.
  9. Man-of-war that have washed up to shore can still sting you. I was stung by one in Florida. While it was incredibly painful at the time, I lived to tell about it. Here is a “How Not to Get Stung” list.
  10. Man-of-war tend to travel together (up to 1000!) and drift in the wind or current (Note: They do not swim and therefore do not migrate). However, they’ll deflate if there is a threat at the surface of the sea.
  11. The eight centimeter fish Nomeus gronovii is immune to the man-of-war’s stinging cells and lives among its tentacles.
  12. The blanket octopus is also immune to them and not only eats them but also reuses the tentacles to help in hunting other animals. Check out a video of that action here.
  13. The fossil records for the man-of-war go back 600 million years.
  14. South Florida-based fine art photographer Aaron Ansarov was featured in National Geographic for his beautiful images of the man-of-war. Check them out … I am still speechless!
  15. There is a Man-O-War Cay in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas. I’ve been to nearby Guana Cay several times, so I am quite grateful that over at Rolling Harbour the beautiful place has been described just as I remember.

man-of-war_beachchairscientist-imagewikipedia

Psst … Can someone help me out with the plural of man-of-war? Is it men-of-war or man-of-wars?

Jellywatch

It is gearing up for summertime so if you see a jellyfish on the beach, report it here. They actually want to hear about all your fun and exciting ocean finds. And best of all there is no registration – so get to it!

What are jellyfish?

It was another great weekend on the beach for my family and everyone had new and exciting Beach Chair Scientist questions. The best part about being a Beach Chair Scientist is clarifying misconceptions, so I am going to start with the question that seemed to garner the most discussion this weekend “What are jellyfish?”.

Jellyfish, contrary to their popular common name, are not fish at all! As a matter of fact, neither are starfish. Popular nicknames to avoid this misconception can be to call them jellies or seastars.

Jellies are basically giant plankton. Plankton is anything (living) that is free-floating. It can be a plant (known as phytoplankton) or an animal (known as zooplankton). Jellies are zooplankton. Floating is easy for them. They are over 90% percent water. People are approximately 70% water.  Jellies are in the family Cnidaria (the c is silent). Also in this group are sea anemones and coral.

What do jellies, sea anemones, and coral all have in common?

1. One giant cavity for all digestion
2. Stinging cells (known as nemotacysts)
3. Tentacles
4. Radial symmetry (no matter how you slice it, you will have 2 halves)

Jellies are essentially a giant mouth with intestines surrounded by a skeleton. They have a nerve-net surrounding their transparent skeleton. The nerve-net in some species extends towards the tentacles. Not all jellies have painful toxins in their tentacles.

What do you do if you are infected with a toxin tentacle?

1. Wash with soap and water
2. Apply alcohol, or meat tenderizer and Vaseline
3. Apply ice and contact a doctor

Image (c) pdphoto.org

Do you have another great question? Email info@beachchairscientist.com and just let me know.