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Smartphones Capture the California Coast in BioBlitz

August, 2016

During the week of June 4 to June 12, the Marine Protected Area Collaborative Network and California Academy of Sciences partnered in an effort to document coastal biodiversity and provide the first ever “snapshot” of the entire California Coast.  The goal was to cover at least one Marine Protected Area in each coastal county. To do this, they hosted a series of grassroots, smartphone powered bioblitzes across the state. The data was then combined to provide a comprehensive look at the California Coast.

A bioblitz is an intensive one-day biodiversity study in a specific location. This series of bioblitzes was powered by smartphones using the iNaturalist app. Through the app you can record what you see in nature, share your observations online, get help identifying what you have seen, meet other naturalists, and learn about the natural world around you. 

Locally, the Humboldt MPA Collaborative organized two events to cover different coastal habitat types: rocky intertidal and sandy beach. The first was June 5 at Old Home Beach in Trinidad and the second was June 11 at the Manila Dunes in collaboration with Friends of the Dunes. People of all ages and skill levels participated and had the chance to be citizen scientists. Although close in proximity, results showed just how different and rich in biodiversity each of these areas are.

Taking advantage of the negative two-foot low tide, the rocky intertidal team collected 84 observations and 66 species at Old Home Beach.  Species observed ranged from giant green anemones (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) to dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) to sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) to harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). 

Trading in tide pools for open sand dunes, dune forest, and the waveslope, the sandy beach team of observers collected 109 observations and 64 species at the Manila Dunes. Observations at the dunes were largely land plants and included many native dune species such as yellow sand verbena (Abronia latifolia) and sea thrift (Armeria maritime). 

Data collected from these events as well as bioblitzes all over the coast were consolidated and added to the larger Snapshot Cal Coast 2016 initiative. In total, 372 people participated, collecting 7,029 observations and 933 species. The top three species observed were the ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus), striped shore crab (Pachygrapsus crassipes), and starburst anemone (Anthopleura sola). This year was the first time a project like this has been attempted on such a large scale and was a great success. 

In addition to being a fun way to get people out in nature and to be citizen scientists, the data collected is invaluable to managers and scientists for determining long-term trends and monitoring of California’s MPA network.

Delia is the NEC’s MPA Outreach Coordinator, and also writes Your Week in Ocean for the Lost Coast Outpost.