Monitoring California's Coastal Biodiversity With Community Science

Community science can generate biodiversity data at scales intractable for other approaches. We are building the capacity to use community science observations to monitor biodiversity on the California coast.

Community science – the involvement of volunteers in the production of scientific knowledge – can generate biodiversity data at spatial and temporal scales difficult to achieve by other approaches. Our team – a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) – is building the capacity to use Community science observations to understand and monitor biodiversity across California’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network and coastal areas.

Over the last decade, the Community Science team at the Academy has been developing a community of naturalists – scientists and non-scientists alike – working together to document biodiversity, connecting people to their local nature and simultaneously collecting data critical to science and management. In particular, a number of ongoing Academy Community science initiatives focus on California’s coastal ecosystems. These include Snapshot Cal Coast – an annual California statewide effort to document our coastal biodiversity – as well as more frequent but more spatially limited community bioblitzes and intertidal monitoring.

All these biodiversity observations are collected and aggregated using a common platform – iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a global network of naturalists, Community scientists, and biologists contributing biodiversity observations over space and time. It achieves this via a set of technological tools, which facilitate the recording, sharing and visualization of detailed biodiversity information.

Our team is developing innovative approaches and tools (here is an example) to make use of the Academy’s community science efforts and iNaturalist community-contributed observations in support of the State of California’s long-term MPA Monitoring Action Plan and the Ocean Protection Council’s Strategic Plan. Core to everything we do is the connection between biodiversity insights and community engagement: with data-based biodiversity insights informing community engagement in biodiversity data collection, and community-contributed data collection feeding back into up-to-date and strengthened biodiversity insights.

Rapacciuolo G, Young A, Johnson R (2020). Monitoring California’s Coastal Biodiversity with Crowd-Sourced Citizen Science. California Academy of Sciences, CA, California Ocean Protection Council, CA, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, CA. p. 38. Find full text.

You can access place-based and species-based biodiversity indicators generated from crowd-sourced community science data as part of this project using the Dynamic Observatory of Biodiversity Cal Coast.