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Citizen Science

To protect biodiversity, we need to know more about it. Academy scientists travel the globe in their efforts to learn more, but they can’t be everywhere—we need your help! Community members’ collective observations of plants and animals, wherever they are found, are beginning to create a revolutionary, new kind of biodiversity survey: a global record made up of individual, local sightings and analysis. Together, we can take this critical step toward saving biodiversity.

California Biodiversity

Founded in 1853, the Academy has its roots in documenting and understanding California biodiversity. Today, we’re working with volunteers to build a new, comprehensive picture of where plants and animals occur in California. Building this new baseline will allow us to compare our findings to our historic collections, constructing a dataset that can be used to measure further change—and to help our partners plan for it. At the same time, we’re building a corps of highly engaged and active citizen scientists.

Learn more about our specific projects below, and keep up with our daily efforts at Document Biodiversity. For more information or to volunteer, please email .

Biodiversity Survey in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed


We’re working with the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) to document and collect every known plant species on the more than 18,000 acres they manage. The MMWD takes care of their watershed lands not only to provide clean drinking water to Marin residents, but also to protect the incredible biodiversity of the area. Though the watershed makes up only .01 percent of the land in California, 15 percent of the state‚Äôs flora is found there, including eight species found only in Marin.

This citizen science inventory of plants found in the watershed will provide the MMWD with a comprehensive baseline with which to track future change; it will also yield much-needed information about currently threatened, endangered, and non-native species. By the beginning of 2014—the third year of the project—our citizen scientists had documented more than 600 of the 900-plus known species!

Here’s what our volunteers are finding:

Learn more

Intertidal Biodiversity Survey at Pillar Point

Pillar Reef

Pillar Point reef, south of San Francisco on the San Mateo coast (and home to the famous Maverick’s Surf Contest), is a diverse, rocky, intertidal site directly adjacent to the Montara State Marine Reserve. When the reserve was established as a California State Marine Protected Area in 2007, the Pillar Point reef was intentionally excluded from the reserve boundaries for use as a control site. But there were few on-going intertidal monitoring programs in place on the reef—until now.

In partnership with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the California Academy of Sciences is documenting the biodiversity of Pillar Point Reef through large-scale bioblitzes, long-term citizen science monitoring, and casual observation. By 2014, our citizen scientists had documented more than 350 species, building a baseline species list for Pillar Point.

Here’s what our volunteers are finding:

Learn more

Related projects: Tracking starfish wasting disease

San Francisco Biodiversity

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco is famous for being a culturally diverse city, but it’s also home to an astoundingly unique and diverse suite of plants and animals! We need residents’ help in documenting the biodiversity right here in San Francisco—in their backyards, neighborhoods, on their walks to school or work, and wherever else they may roam (within city limits). Whether you’re a local or a visitor, please join us by letting us know what plants and animals you’ve observed in our city!

Here’s what San Francisco residents and visitors are finding:

Learn more

Community Grassroots Bioblitzes

Lake Merritt

Bioblitzes are gatherings of citizen scientists—and great introductions to citizen science itself! Just bring your smartphone and powers of observation to help catalog the natural wonders of urban parks and open space.

Spearheaded by our friends at Nerds for Nature, bioblitzes are gatherings of scientists, citizen scientists, land managers, and more, all working together to find and identify as many different species as possible—everything from an ant to a redwood tree! Bioblitzes not only help land managers build a species list and atlas for their park, they also highlight the incredible biodiversity in these urban oases.

Participants use the iNaturalist app to document their plant and animal observations, and we end each bioblitz with a “wrap session” that allows the group to see what everyone found and help each other with identifications.

Learn more about and register for upcoming bioblitzes by visiting www.nerdsfornature.org/bioblitz. Bring yourself, your family, or a group of friends—we encourage friendly competition to see who can document the most species!

See what was found at past bioblitzes:

McLaren Park, San Francisco

Fort Funston, San Francisco

Laurelwood Park, San Mateo

Palo Alto Baylands, Palo Alto

Lake Merritt, Oakland

National Parks and National Geographic BioBlitz, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Tilden Nature Area, Oakland-Berkeley Hills

We work with amazing partners to engage and build community around biodiversity research and conservation. Learn more about our partners, the associations we belong to, and the initiatives we lead here.



We work closely with iNaturalist.org, a social network through which anyone can record and discuss their observations of the natural world. We share with iNaturalist the belief and hope that if enough people record their observations, we can create a living record of life on Earth. Scientists and land managers can pose questions to the iNaturalist community and use the resulting data to monitor changes in biodiversity, and anyone can use iNaturalist to learn more about nature itself. We’re working together to achieve this goal.

Bay Area Citizen Science Coalition

Citizen Science Coalition

In 2013, the California Academy of Sciences organized the first meeting of the Bay Area Citizen Science Coalition. The Coalition is largely made up of organizations that run biodiversity-related citizen science programs in the Bay Area, but it also includes teachers who do citizen science with their students, academics who research citizen science outcomes on participants and communities, city and land managers interested in data collected through citizen science projects, and some stellar citizen scientists!

The Bay Area Citizen Science Coalition serves multiple purposes:

  • To build community in the Bay Area around citizen science
  • To provide mutual support to and to share knowledge and resources among local citizen science programs
  • To discuss and improve best practices in citizen science locally
  • To work collaboratively to better understand and document Bay Area biodiversity

Follow the Bay Area Citizen Science Coalition on Facebook!

Nerds for Nature

Nerds for Nature

Nerds for Nature is an all-volunteer organization in the Bay Area that brings environmental professionals together with technologists and designers, first in dialogue and then to collaboratively create awesome new tools to help people discover, protect, and understand the world around them.

The California Academy of Sciences partners with Nerds for Nature and iNaturalist, as well as other organizations and land managers, to hold one-day grassroots bioblitzes in urban parks and open spaces around the Bay Area.

San Mateo County MPA Collaborative
Golden Gate MPA Collaborative

Academy citizen science staff participate in both the San Mateo County and Golden Gate (Marin and San Francisco Counties) Marine Protected Area Collaboratives. These MPA Collaboratives provide a localized, comprehensive approach to MPA implementation in California by bringing together local experts and authorities in the areas of Outreach and Education, Enforcement and Research, and Monitoring.

Marin MPA Watch

MPA Collaborative

We work together with the West Marin Environmental Action Committee and the Point Reyes National Seashore to coordinate the Marin MPA Watch Program. Marin MPA Watch is a citizen science monitoring program that trains volunteers to observe and record human uses within the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Marin County, and to interact with the public on matters of MPA regulations. The MPA Watch Program is part of a larger effort facilitated by the California Ocean Science Trust. If you’re interested in learning more, please email .

National Citizen Science Association

The Academy is a steering committee member of the Citizen Science Association, a community of practice for the field of citizen science. The newly formed association will have its first meeting in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science Conference in February 2015 in San Jose, California.

Interested in learning more about the Academy’s citizen science program? Check out these videos, articles, and presentations to delve deeper into citizen science projects at the Academy.


Citizen Science at the Academy

Mt. Tamalpais BioBlitz—Think Blue Marin

How Technology is Creating Citizen Scientists—GigaOM

“Backyards, Beaches, Birds, and Bees: Citizen Science”—Commonwealth Club lecture

“The Snake, the Seeker, and the Smartphone: Can Tech Save Biodiversity?”—Commonwealth Club lecture

Select Presentations

“Rediscovering California: Engaging the Public in Biodiversity Research and Conservation”—2013 North American Association for Environmental Education Conference

Citizen Science Convening

May 2012

In May 2012, the California Academy of Sciences held three days of meetings about citizen science and biodiversity research. The goal of these meetings was to discuss best practices of public participation in scientific research with other institutions, citizen science practitioners and participants, data managers, and biodiversity researchers. This was done not only to help inform the Academy’s new citizen science initiative on documenting California biodiversity, but also to help advance the field of citizen science as a whole through engaging discussions and presentations about working with volunteers, aligning research and conservation goals with participant needs, and the use of technology in a variety of ways to benefit projects that involve public participation in research.

To download the proceedings from the conference, please click here.


Want to find the citizen science project that’s right for you? Browse the list below to see a wide range of programs looking for volunteers, visit Zooniverse.org for a variety of online citizen science projects, or visit SciStarter.com to do a targeted search.

Animals (non-insect)

Project Name Research Project Location Website
Otter Spotters River otters San Francisco Bay Area Otter Spotters
California Roadkill Observation Program Roadkill observations California CA Roadkill Observations
FrogWatch USA Frogs United States FrogWatch
North American Amphibian Monitoring Program Frog and toad populations United States Amphibian Monitoring
Program Instant WILD Identifiying animals in photos from camera traps Online Instant WILD


Project Name Research Project Location Website
Galaxy Zoo Classifying galaxies Online Galaxy Zoo
Milky Way Project Sort and measure the Milky Way galaxy Online Milky Way Project
Moon Zoo Describing the lunar surface Online Moon Zoo
PlanetHunters Search for planets around other stars Online Planet Hunters
Stardust@home Interstellar dust particles Online Stardust@home


Project Name Research Project Location Website
BioCurious Hacker space for biotech San Francisco Bay Area BioCurious


Project Name Research Project Location Website
Pacific Flyway Shorebird Survey Shorebirds San Francisco Bay Area PRBO
Raptor monitoring Raptors in the GGNRA San Francisco Bay Area GGRO
Celebrate Urban Birds Urban bird ecology North America Urban Birds
NestWatch Bird nesting/reproduction North America NestWatch
Great Backyard Bird Count Bird distributions across N. America North America Backyard Bird Count
North American Breeding Bird Survey Birds North America Breeding Bird Survey
PigeonWatch Pigeons North America PigeonWatch
Project FeederWatch Winter birds at bird feeders North America FeederWatch
Christmas Bird Count Bird distributions across N. America International Christmas Bird Count
eBird Birds International eBird
CamClickr Sort and tag 8 million archived NestCam images Online  


Project Name Research Project Location Website
FoundSF Geotagging historical photos, contributing stories, editing articles San Francisco Bay Area FoundSF
Citizen Archivist Dashboard Transcribing, tagging photos, contributing to articles Online Citizen Archivist
Old Weather Digitize weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I Online Old Weather

Environmental/Weather Monitoring

Project Name Research Project Location Website
Common Sense Air quality monitoring San Francisco Bay Area Common Sense
Contra Costa Volunteer Creek Monitoring Creek surveys San Francisco Bay Area CC Creek Monitoring
Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) Measure and map precipitation North America CoCoRaHS
Citizen Weather Observer Program Weather International Weather Observer
Snowtweets Snow depths International Snowtweets
Sound Around You Building a sound map of the world to investigate how sounds in our everyday environment make us feel International Sound Around You


Project Name Research Project Location Website
Quake-Catcher Network Links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network International Quake-Catcher


Project Name Research Project Location Website
Lost Ladybug Project Ladybugs United States Lost Ladybug
School of Ants Ants United States School of Ants
The Great Sunflower Project / The Backyard Bee Count Pollinators United States Great Sunflower
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Monarchs North America Monarch Larva
AntWeb Diversity and identification of ants International AntWeb


Project Name Research Project Location Website
Beach Watch Coastal/marine mammals, birds, beaches San Francisco Bay Area Beach Watch
California King Tides Initiative Document the highest seasonal tides to help visualize the impact of rising waters on the California coast. California CA King Tides
Reef Check California California rocky reefs California Reef Check
SERC Marine Invasions Citizen Science/ Plate Watch Marine invasives: Asian Kelp, Chinese mitten crab, invasive tunicates California Marine Invasions
JellyWatch Jellyfish sightings International JellyWatch
REEF Fish, invertebrates, algae International REEF
DigitalFishers Tagging video data of underwater features and organisms off the coast of Vancouver Island Online DigitalFishers
Whale.FM Cataloging the calls made by pilot whales and killer whales Online Whale.FM


Project Name Research Project Location Website
Your Wildlife Personal biota: wildlife on your body and in your home International Your Wildlife
EteRNA Creating the first large-scale library of synthetic RNA designs Online EteRNA
EyeWire Mapping the retinal connectome Online EyeWire
FoldIt Protein folding Online FoldIt
PatientsLikeMe Treatment and side effect information Online PatientsLikeMe
Personal Genome Project Sharing genome sequence and many types of personal information with the research community and the general public Online Personal Genomes


Project Name Research Project Location Website
Urban Forest Map Build an inventory of San Francisco's urban forest San Francisco Bay Area Urban Forest Map
Bay Area Early Detection Network (BAEDN) Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) to infestations of invasive plants San Francisco Bay Area BAEDN
Calflora California plant observations California Calflora
OakMapper Sudden oak death California OakMapper
Redwood Watch Redwood observations California/Oregon Redwood Watch
Project BudBurst Plant phenophases United States BudBurst

Naturalist Center


Naturalist Center

The Naturalist Center offers a wide range of resources and services to individuals interested in learning more about the natural world.

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