THE OCEANS ARE CHANGING. They're warming, becoming increasingly acidic, and sea levels are rising. Yet, it remains unclear how these perturbations will affect marine biological communities. Moreover, we lack the baseline data necessary to monitor how marine communities respond to environmental change. For marine mammals like humpback whales, these baseline data need to be collected over large areas and multiple years to be useful. Until recently, this was prohibitively costly and time consuming; however, scientists are increasingly turning to citizen-science programs as efficient, low-cost methods to collect large amounts of data.
Citizen-science programs encourage volunteers to participate in research by providing simple means for them to record important field data. Oregon State University graduate student and AWF biologist Courtney Hann is developing an application for a mobile platform that will allow boaters to record marine mammal sightings, while simultaneously raising their awareness of important conservation issues. Developing such an application is a collaborative process that will rely on the efforts of many volunteers. Hann hopes to engage boaters, including commercial fishermen, pleasure boaters, and charter vessel operators, through a targeted outreach program at AWF's Center for Coastal Conservation on Baranof Island .