Citizen Science

Sound Water Stewards are trained volunteers working in and around Island County for a healthy, sustainable marine environment through education, science and stewardship.

Citizen Science

Citizen Science engages our trained Stewards to support critical research in partnership with universities, government, tribes, scientists, and data managers across the Salish Sea. Projects are listed below. Stewards monitor flora and fauna on Island County beaches, observe colonies, collect data on marine debris and many more scientific endeavors. And, in our very own SWS Intertidal Monitoring program, we collect data on 27 beaches in Island County and share our findings with researchers at the University of Washington.

  • Birds
    • We monitor Pigeon Guillemot burrows, behaviors, and populations at many sites around Whidbey Island in conjunction with the Salish Sea Guillemot Network and Whidbey Audubon.
    • In support of COASST at University of Washington, volunteers walk our beaches on the lookout for beached birds to help document changes in seabird populations.
  • Crabs
  • Eelgrass
  • Fish
    • Forage Fish Spawning Survey – we gather forage fish egg samples at local beaches, winnow the gathered material, and tally eggs. Managed by Island County Marine Resources Committee – in conjunction with WA Department of Fish and Wildlife. (read more)
    • Estuary Seining for salmon smolt – In 2005, we (as Beach Watchers) began “seining” for salmon smolt (netting the smolt, identifying the species, measuring, counting and returning unharmed) at various key shorelines around our islands, under the watchful eye of NOAA. In 2009 Cornet Bay became our major site, collecting data for pre- and post- restoration. After 8 years, enough data has been collected for their studies. Most recently, the Marine Resources Committee (who provides the needed NOAA permits) and the Island County Salmon Recovery team have been leading seining monitoring with SWS assistants.
  • Bull Kelp Survey – we use a kayak based protocol to take measurements on kelp beds during the summer and fall when kelp is actively growing. Read more at
  • Intertidal Fauna & Flora – extreme low tide days find us out on the beaches – monitoring the marine life to accumulate baseline data-over-time on invertebrates, seaweeds and beach conditions. In SWS very own “Intertidal Monitoring” program, we monitor 12 beaches on Camano and 7 beaches on Whidbey contributing our data to a statewide database managed by Jason Toft at University of Washington. Learn more at the Shoreline Monitoring Toolkit. SWS data goes into the Shoreline Monitoring Database.


  • Shellfish – Mussel Watch (monitoring for toxins) – every other year – bag up Penn Cove mussels for deployment at monitoring sites throughout Puget Sound; we also deploy at one site in Island County. In conjunction with WA DFW and Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program. (read more)
  • Sound Toxins – The Camano SoundToxins Team is one of 35+ teams across the Salish Sea who participate in the SoundToxins program managed by Washington SeaGrant and Washington State Department of Health. The program aims to provide sufficient warning of Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) events. The program primarily monitors plankton known to harm humans, ecosystems, and economic health. The original four phytoplankton were Alexandrium, Dinophysis, Heterosigma, and Pseudo-nitzschia and then four more species were added in 2019. These efforts help the program continuously look for patterns and create methods to mitigate damages to our public health and seafood industries.
  • Storm Surge Monitoring – use MyCoast App to document shoreline and beach conditions and storm surge impacts pre and post-storm event. In conjunction with Island County Marine Resources Committee and USGS.
  • Bluff erosion study – monitoring changes over time – in partnership with USGS at WWU

What is citizen science?

  • a definition: the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.
  • also known as community science, crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, or volunteer monitoring is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by nonprofessional-unpaid-volunteer scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as “public participation in scientific research.” Utilization of trained volunteers can advance science, increase data available, and speed research beyond what could be done by formal scientists alone. Furthermore, local community members may often be the best observers.

Article on the value of community science (citizen science): Citizen scientists are filling research gaps created by the pandemic 

Why many groups are changing the terminology from ‘citizen’ science to ‘community’ science – program helping federal government benefit from public participation in scientific data collection