Capturing Our Coast: New project launched to map UK marine life
People from across the UK are being invited to take part in Capturing Our Coast, a £1.7-million Heritage Lottery-funded initiative led by Newcastle University.
The project aims to recruit and train more than 3,000 volunteers, making it the largest coastal marine citizen science initiative ever undertaken.
Volunteers will collect data on important marine species, including top shells and seaweeds. The data will be used to assess how British coastal systems are responding to changing climatic conditions such as rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification.
Data-collection training will take place at seven regional hubs: Newcastle University, Hull University, Portsmouth University, the Marine Biological Association of the UK in Plymouth, the Marine Conservation Society in Herefordshire, Bangor University and the Scottish Association for Marine Science.
The Natural History Museum will be a scientific partner for Capturing Our Coast, providing expertise on marine species and aspects of biodiversity.
Professor Juliet Brodie, a Museum seaweed expert and a member of the project's advisory panel, said: 'I am very excited about Capturing Our Coast.
'Taking part is such a brilliant opportunity for people to get to know the diversity and beauty of the marine algae found on our shores, and everyone will have the chance to contribute to our scientific understanding of these organisms.'
Building a complete map
Capturing Our Coast builds on previous citizen science projects run by Newcastle University. The Big Sea Survey, launched in 2010, recruited 357 volunteers to log plants and animals along a 150-mile stretch of coastline from St Abbs in the Scottish Borders to Saltburn in north Yorkshire.
Volunteers were asked to choose between one and five species to survey, allowing researchers to put together a database of biodiversity records.
This time, the researchers say they are aiming for nationwide data, which will be used as a baseline to track the impact of environmental change on marine species.
Dr Heather Sugden, the Co-Principal Investigator based at Newcastle University, says:
'The data we collect will fill key knowledge gaps such as geographic species distributions, movement of warm-water species, and occurrences of invasive non-native species. '
Training and ongoing support will be provided to volunteers by marine-science experts to ensure high quality data.
According to Prof Brodie, scientists will also re-survey some of the same sites as the volunteers, allowing researchers to test the scientific robustness of the data collected.
'The project will also help researchers determine how people can contribute to scientific data collection in meaningful ways,' she says.
Citizen science on the rise
Citizen science projects are increasingly used to complement traditional lab research and fieldwork, enabling faster data collection and analysis, often from remote locations or covering wider areas than scientists could manage alone.
The Natural History Museum runs a number of citizen science projects, including a couple focused on increasing our understanding of marine biodiversity and how it is responding to environmental change.
The Big Seaweed Search, which Prof Brodie helped set up in 2009, looks at how climate change and the arrival of invasive species is affecting the ecology of UK seaweeds.
You can also contribute to our understanding of UK marine mammals by telling us about any stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises you find, as part of the UK Whale and Dolphin Strandings project.