Citizen Science Program

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This program was originally proposed by Dr. Eddy Carmack, retired scientist from the Institute of Ocean Sciences, Sidney. His concept was the creation of a “mosquito fleet” which would utilize fishing vessels to collect oceanographic data during the spring and neap tides at specific locations in coastal waters of the Strait of Georgia. Retirees or interested persons would take on a role as citizen scientists, collecting information in different areas of the Strait on the same days each week over a period of months, such that the entire Strait could be fully sampled, providing data at a spatial and temporal degree that has not been realized or possible before. We have partnered with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) to assist with program management for the citizen science program and are making good progress with implementing Dr. Carmack’s idea. IOS scientists divided the Salish Sea into overlapping areas that they hope can be covered by a small boat in one or two days of sampling effort. The original concept looked something like the figure below. These areas have now been modified so that we have citizen science vessels working out of the following areas:

  • Campbell River
  • Bayne Sound
  • Qualicum
  • Ladysmith
  • Cowichan Bay
  • Victoria
  • Lund
  • Sechelt/Irvine’s Landing
  • Steveston
Citizen science sampling stations

Having citizen scientists make oceanographic measurements in each of these areas, on the same day every 2-3 weeks between February and October, allows for complete coverage of the Strait of Georgia. The data collected will allow us to assess annual variation in the physical/chemical oceanography in the entire Salish Sea and to estimate phytoplankton biomass. These data will be very useful to modeling initiatives, and for understanding spatial and temporal changes in productivity of the Strait.

Ocean Networks Canada has developed a smart phone application for sample data transfer so that data can be sent directly from the small boats to ONC, where it undergoes quality control and is then archived and made freely available over the internet. ONC is responsible for project management, calibrations, engineering support, data management and QA/QC.


The main workhorse for the oceanographic measurements is a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) instrument which collects and stores electronic measurements of the water properties.  The instrument we are using, an RBR Concerto CTD measures these properties 6 times a second as it descends through the water column from surface to maximum depth.  Attached to the CTD are two auxiliary instruments: a fluorometer which measures chlorophyll content and an optode which measures oxygen content.  Fluorescence is an indicator of plankton productivity (algae growth), while oxygen is used both to trace the movement of water masses and to detect areas with low flush rates.

Along with the CTD profiles we take water samples for nutrients dissolved in the seawater – these samples are analysed back in the lab.  Nutrients are used to identify water from certain sources (like rivers), to diagnose the limiting factors for growth of plankton and track the movement of water masses.

The third element is a small plankton net intended to capture zooplankton.  This net is lowered to a maximum of 150m and brought up at a specified speed to capture plankton.  A flowmeter in the mouth of the net will measure the volume of water that flowed through.  Once back on board, the net is washed down with filtered seawater and the zooplankton collected from the cod end and preserved in formalin.  Again these samples are returned to the lab for analysis of abundance and species found.

The fourth element is the use of a secchi disk which is used to asses water turbidity. The data collected from this part of our project will also be included as part of an international program to collect secchi disk measurements. A recent study of global phytoplankton abundance over the last century concluded that global phytoplankton concentrations have declined due to rising sea surface temperatures as a consequence of current climate change and prompted the development of an international effort to examine this Each of our citizen scientists has been provided with a tablet, and will download the free Android ‘Secchi’ application which will allow them to contribute these measurements.

The fifth is the collection of water samples to identify phytoplankton, as part of our examination of the spatial and temporal prevalence of harmful algae throughout the Strait of Georgia. Water samples containing phytoplankton are analyzed back at the lab and examined for harmful algal blooms.

Installation of sampling equipment is relatively simple, only requiring the installation of a mounting bracket for a small downrigger provided and installed at no cost. Approximately 3 feet by 5 feet of deck space is needed for instrument and equipment storage. This pilot project is the only one of its kind and thus brings opportunity for partnering with other citizens in the collection of oceanographic data.


The program was begun in February 2015, with all vessel operators fully trained to carry out the program on the first “shakedown” cruises. During 2015, the program had vessels outfitted and actively sampling the Strait of Georgia from Campbell River, Deep Bay, Qualicum, Ladysmith, Cowichan Bay, Victoria, Lund, Powell River, Sechelt and Steveston.

Ocean Networks Canada has provided a smart phone application for sample data transfer so that data can be transmitted directly to ONC, undergo QA/QC, archived and made freely available over the internet. For the first two months of the project, CTD data transfers from the instrument to the tablet and from tablet to ONC data centre created some problems, but initial issues were resolved by the ONC technical team.

In 2016 some changes were made to the program: the Victoria vessel was not continued as this area showed little seasonal variation oceanographically; instead it was replaced by a new vessel sampling out of Galiano Island. During 2016 they also implemented sampling for ocean acidity measurements on the Baynes Sound and Powell River vessels. This work was carried out in partnership with Wiley Evans of the Hakai Institute.

The complete tally of samples collected for 2015-2017 is as follows:

Sampling Years Vessel Trips CTD casts Nutrients Collected Phytoplankton Collected Chlorophyll Collected Secchi Recordings Zooplankton Collected Total Samples
2015 150 2,264 1,809 1,381 193 2,088 146 7,881
2016 199 1,445 1,587 2,064 349 2,825 60 8,330
2017 197 1,420 1,529 1,934 340 2,814 54 8,091
3 years 546 5,129 4,925 5,379 882 7,727 260 24,302

PSF was able to secure funding to run the Citizen Science Program for one additional year in 2018

Several SSMSP scientists are utilizing the citizen science data for model validation, and to address other questions as part of their programs. Examples of these programs and applications include the following:

  • Strategic Salmon Health Initiative: is there a relationship between level of stress (fish from areas temps > 17OC temp & <6ppm O2) and expression of disease states?
  • Harmful algal blooms: How does water temperature/ salinity/ DO/ nutrients affect prevalence of HABS?
  • Migration Pathways of Pacific Salmon: Is there are relationship between water quality/hotspots of plankton & migration pathways?
  • Kelp and Eelgrass Restoration: Characterizing turbidity and water properties in a number of estuaries around the Strait
  • Juvenile Salmon Studies: Relating the distribution, diet and fish size for key juvenile salmon stocks to temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen.
  • Modeling Studies and Satellite Data: Data collected by the citizen science program is being used to validate 3D biological models of the Salish Sea, and to ground-truth satellite imagery with on-ground data

All data are available from the Strait of Georgia Data Centre