Citizen science

Monitoring and science conducted by people who are not professional scientists, who volunteer their time because they have an interest in science and the environment.

Citizen science is the systematic collection and analysis of data, development of technology, testing of natural phenomena, and the dissemination of these activities by amateur scientists who are volunteers from the community. Citizen science therefore relies on strong public participation in scientific monitoring and research, and is often an important data collection component of marine management programs because it can provide data from a much larger area and number of sites.

There are many examples of citizen science in action, and there are programs that have been operating in coral reef regions for many years. The information provided on the listed websites would be of interest to managers and provide some information on how to implement citizen science.  However, no guidance is available for managers of what may be the best approaches to having a citizen science-based program.  The sections on reef stewardship programs within this resource portal and on environmental monitoring and assessment will also be useful here.


  • The Reef Check Foundation is an international non-profit organization dedicated to conservation of two ecosystems: tropical coral reefs and California rocky reefs: They work to create partnerships among community volunteers, government agencies, businesses, universities and other non-profits. Goals include; educating the public of the value of reef ecosystems and creating a global network of volunteer teams trained in Reef Check's scientific methods. Caribbean reef managers are likely to be particularly interested in their Caribbean Initiatives, which include training in monitoring methods.
  • The Reef Environmental Education Foundation: is a grass-roots organization that seeks to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. Key projects include Nassau grouper and Lionfish research. Caribbean reef managers, and their stakeholders, can contribute through data collection and online reporting.
  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s “Eye on the Reef” initiative: allows anyone who visits the Great Barrier Reef to contribute to its long-term protection. The program brings together five assessment and monitoring programs that collect valuable information about reef health, marine animals and incidents and impacts. Aspects of the monitoring programs could be replicated within the Caribbean.
  • Redmap” is an Australian marine fish online citizen monitoring initiative: Although these species are not found in the Caribbean, Caribbean reef managers could establish their own online sightings network.
  • One global example of an online sightings database is that of ECOCEAN for whale shark sightings: The ECOCEAN site has information on how to take whale shark identification photographs and photos can be uploaded to the site. This enables any recreational diver with a camera to take identification photos and contribute to global research. Caribbean managers can learn these skills and share them with local dive operators.

Key publications

Engaging stakeholders in fisheries and marine research (2011) Mackinson S, Wilson DC, Galiay P and Deas B. Marine Policy, Vol. 35(1): 18–24. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2010.07.003

Conservation and management applications of the reef volunteer fish monitoring program. (2003) Pattengill-Semmens CV and Semmens BX. In: Coastal Monitoring through Partnerships, Proceedings of the Fifth Symposium on the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) Pensacola Beach, FL, U.S.A., April 24–27, 2001, Melzian BD, Engle V, McAlister M, Sandhu S and Eads LK (Eds), pp. 43-50.

A new dawn for citizen science (2009) Silvertown, Jonathan. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24.9 (2009): 467-471.

Citizen science: a developing tool for expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy (2009) Bonney, Rick, et al. BioScience 59.11: 977-984.

Marine invasive species: validation of citizen science and implications for national monitoring networks (2008) Delaney, David G., et al. Biological Invasions 10.1: 117-128.