Our coastal waters are vulnerable to a variety of human impacts including climate change, the introduction of non-native species, and the construction of coastal infrastructures. At the same time, our seas remain the least researched habitat on our planet. ‘Citizen Science’, where members of the public are involved in the scientific process, could be a useful and novel tool to aid scientists to overcome such knowledge gaps on the abundance, diversity and beauty of what is living in our coastal waters.
Capturing our Coast (or ‘CoCoast’ for short) is a new marine citizen science project in which members of the public and scientists work together to collect information on a variety of marine species along our stunning UK coasts. Co-ordinated by Newcastle University and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, various hubs across the UK aim to train, inspire and support anyone with a passion for the marine environment to record the diversity and distribution of the plants and animals that live in our coastal waters. Portsmouth University is the local hub for the South and South East coast and has so far trained more than 300 citizen scientists who are surveying the coasts from Dorset to Sussex, and even Kent and Essex as part of this 3 year project.
In this talk we will discuss the important contribution of citizen science to ecological research, and how marine research in particular will benefit from projects such as CoCoast. As part of CoCoast, 2000 people from all over the UK will, together with scientists, study the spread of invasive species like the wireweed Sargassum muticum, the effects of climate change on populations of snails, barnacles and limpets alike, or get involved in intriguing campaigns such as ‘Spermwatch’ to study the ‘love life’ of lugworms (www.capturingourcoast.co.uk/spermwatch). It is a unique opportunity for both scientists and members of the public: not only does it allow scientists to work with a large network of citizen scientists to increase our understanding of how UK shores are responding to environmental change, but it also presents opportunities to raise awareness of marine science and pass on enthusiasm for the marine environment.