Citizen Science

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.

Biodiversity Survey in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

Biodiversity Survey in the Mt. Tam 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’s 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!

Intertidal Biodiversity Survey at Pillar Point

Pillar Point

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.

San Francisco Biodiversity

San Francisco Biodiversity

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!

Community Grassroots Bioblitzes

Grassroots BioBlitz

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. 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 Bring yourself, your family, or a group of friends—we encourage friendly competition to see who can document the most species!

Share This

Documenting Biodiversity Blog

Keep up with our day-to-day efforts by following the Document Biodiversity blog, maintained by members of the Academy's Citizen Science department. 

Visit the Naturalist Center

Located on Level 3, the Naturalist Center is the Academy's home of interactive learning. Touch specimens, ask questions, or join one of our daily programs, all free with admission.