beach observer

Project: BeachObserver app

When oil or cargo is spilled into the ocean, the first indication that something has gone wrong is usually debris washing up on shore or changes to coastal wildlife. The citizens who live and work in coastal communities will often be “first responders” of sorts–noticing that something has changed in the natural daily observations that come with living near, and interacting with, the ocean. But how can this naturally-occurring compendium of data be harnessed and utilized by marine scientists?

The BeachObserver app, created by Coastal and Ocean Resources in British Columbia, seeks to simplify the recording of these observations and centralize data submitted by a network of engaged, everyday individuals. According to the app creators’ site:

The main objectives of the project are to promote citizen science, develop baselines, and analyze change. BeachObserver facilitates the recording, sharing, and networking of credible shoreline observations including wildlife, plants, beach cast animals, and marine debris with geo-tagged observations and photos.

The hope is that BeachObserver will be on as many mobile devices as possible to take advantage of the law of large numbers–in other words, the more observations we can record, the more accurate a picture of shoreline conditions we’ll get, and the more useful the data will be. Currently, the app is only available for Apple devices, and costs only $1.39 to download–and programmers hope to have an Android version rolled out by the end of the year. If you’re not an Apple-toting citizen scientist, though, you can still use the browser-based version, which is Chrome- and Safari-compatible.

Using BeachObserver is really simple and user-friendly. There’s a handy video tutorial here, or, you can just play around with the app and site to familiarize yourself with it, like I did! Basically, you’re given the option of looking at the map of current observations, or entering one yourself. Looking at the map is interesting and fun–you can refine your search by what type of observation was noted, how long ago the data was entered, where it was found, etc. There are observations from all over the U.S. and even some worldwide! It’s interesting to see what’s being found as we speak. You can use this tool just for browsing, or it would definitely be useful if  you want to check your findings against other people in your area.

If you want to enter an observation of your own, you simply choose from the five categories offered (biological, man-made, chemical, habitat, or “other”), then click through a series of sub-categories offered until you arrive at the specific definition of the debris you’ve spotted. You then have the option to write in notes about what you’ve found, and include a picture.

BeachObserver is an extremely low-cost, easy way for those of us living in, or even just visiting, coastal environments to get involved in marine health and safety–with the click of a few buttons. Let’s work together to keep our coastlines (and the people and animals that live there) protected for many years to come!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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