Sink into community seaweed challenge

Any islander can be a citizen scientist thanks to the iNaturalist app

A survey of seaweed diversity and abundance on Vancouver and Bowen Island shorelines hasn’t been done since the mid ’80s. Boat traffic and globalisation has increased dramatically since then, bringing in and killing off many species of seaweed.

As a biology student at UBC, I’m working with my phycology (study of seaweeds) professor, Dr. Bridgette Clarkson on such a study this summer and we need your help. 

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I would like to invite all of you to help participate in science to help our coastal waters by collecting seaweed photos and uploading them to iNaturalist (a free app available for Android and Apple). The objective is to create a summary of all the species in the area and where exactly they are found. Typical maps of species habitats are very vague. Species may be listed as being found from Alaska down to the Baha Peninsula, but the individuals may be picky about where they live. If you have ever been out to Tofino, you’ll have noticed that the types of habitats and species therin can be very different from those on Bowen. There are even noticeable differences between places on Bowen. The Cove has fairly different speciation compared to Hood Point. 

Using iNaturalist, anybody can contribute to and collect data for the scientific community while also learning something. The app is very simple, even for elementary school aged children. You find a seaweed on the beach, photograph it, then use the app to choose from its suggested IDs, and share. Datapoints such as GPS coordinates, time of day or year and the identification (or observations) are all kept together and uploaded to a massive database, which is then connected to an even bigger international database (GBIF). Your phone automatically collects all of this data but if you don’t have internet, or have location services turned off, adding these points of data is still very easy and quick.

You can use iNaturalist for identifying any form of life - seaweed, trees, bugs, fish, birds- basically anything you can get a good photo of. I want to see how many observations the Bowen Island community can make this year. I challenge Bowen Island to make 500 observations of seaweeds this summer. Even if someone has already identified the one you find, it’s still valuable information. 

Whether scouring the beach or on an evening amble through the forest, iNaturalist drives you to find different types of life, not just the common ones. You can observe species in your backyard (be sure to mark any ‘captive’––i.e. plants in your garden––observations as such), or seaweed species on the beach. Please, introduce this app to your kids, your friends, your students, anyone and everyone. Citizen science becomes more effective as more people take part. 

I would like to mention as a heads up that many species of seaweed can look very different from one another and still be the same species (similar to dogs) and some species of seaweed may look very similar but be completely different species (similar to mushrooms). If this happens, please label your observation as best you can as this will result in more people having the chance of reviewing your observation, this could be as vague as “algae.” Anything helps. Observations that have not been reviewed by other people won’t be uploaded to the databases until they have been reviewed. 

Please feel free to contact me with any questions: tobinsparling@gmail.com.

Thanks everyone, I look forward to seeing your observations!

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