University of Washington researchers and their collaborators are evaluating the impacts and effectiveness of a citizen science program called COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) that engages 600 trained non-scientists in collecting data on beached birds found on more than 300 beaches from the north coast of California to Alaska. The goals of the COASST program are to expand coastal citizen involvement in scientifically meaningfully science and improve the use of citizen science as a tool for scientific inquiry and resource management.

Project personnel are analyzing current COASST materials and activities to determine (1) the best uses of COASST bird data, (2) how to maximize engagement of coastal citizens in COASST's scientific activities, (3) how to increase COASST participant learning, skills development, awareness and action, and (4) how to scale up the project by developing additional materials and facilitating adoption of the COASST model by other organizations around the country. The analysis includes an evaluation study of the existing beached bird instructional module to identify successful components for future use and determine whether the balance between automation and individualization of components, such as the materials, website, and training, optimizes participant experience. The project team is also working with current participants, marine scientists, and marine natural resource managers via surveys, focus groups and design and testing groups, to determine what other types of data are important for citizen scientists to collect.

The project's findings will help researchers understand how citizens, scientists, and resource managers can partner to engage the public in rigorous citizen science activities, create a flexible citizen science program that can be scaled-up demographically and geographically, and work with new and existing COASST participants, COASST data end-users, and potential COASST model adopters to meet new scientific, educational, and resource management needs.

Project Report

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) is a 14-year old citizen science program based at the University of Washington that believes that citizens of coastal communities are essential scientific partners in monitoring marine ecosystem health. Currently, 800 trained participants, age 9-90, collect high quality, scientific data from a large geographic region (northern California to northwest Alaska): approximately 4,500 birds annually of 100 species from 500 beaches. The National Science Foundation provided funds to expand program involvement, increase the use of citizen science as a tool for scientists and resource managers, and evaluate participant learning outcomes and impacts arrising from participation in the COASST program. Toward those goals, COASST staff conducted 69 trainings and recruited an additional 400 participants from 43 coastal communities. Combined outreach (conferences, workshops, community talks, fairs and festivals) reached and audience of over 3,000 people. Additionally, state, federal, and tribal agencies, and academic scientists requested use of COASST data 40 times (about once/month). As measured by a paired pre/post test, the COASST training has significant positive impacts of participants’ knowledge of science methods and techniques. Long-term COASST participants are able to synthesize scientific data across geographic and temporal scales larger than their individual field experiences.

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University of Washington
United States
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