Help us document California’s incredible coastal biodiversity!

As part of the California Marine Protected Area Collaborative Network,  Shark Stewards is participating with the California Academy of Sciences and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in subtidal surveys of California MPAs as part of the Snapshot Cal Coast.

Snapshot Cal Coast is an annual California statewide citizen science effort that encourages people to make and share observations of plants, animals, and seaweeds along the California coast using the iNaturalist app. Led by the California Academy of Sciences with support from the California Ocean Protection Council, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the MPA (Marine Protected Area) Collaborative Network and an array of other partners, we are creating a valuable snapshot in time of where species are located along our coast.

Divers- Record Your Observations inside our California Marine Protected Areas


Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: To protect public health and align with CDC guidelines, this year’s Snapshot Cal Coast will be held in two phases. Phase one (June 1-November 16) will be “physically distant and hyper-local,” focusing on beaches that participants can safely and legally access alone or with families or “quarantine bubbles,” while phase two (November 28-December 16) will (hopefully!) be a more traditional Snapshot Cal Coast. While observing, please remember the Three Ws, follow all local laws, and respect beach closures. Please note that dates and details are subject to change—subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.

What is Snapshot Cal Coast?

Citizen scientists tidepooling on a foggy day

For 1-2 weeks every year, we mobilize and organize our amazing partners from Del Norte to San Diego and everywhere in between to make and share observations of as many species as possible to build an annual snapshot of biodiversity along the California coast. By building a community of observers and recorders, we’re providing valuable data for scientists at local, regional, and state levels, and answering targeted research questions in support of California Marine Protected Areas.

Together, we are gathering the data needed to determine species ranges now against which we can measure and monitor changes in the future.

How to get involved

This year, Snapshot Cal Coast will held be in two phases:

  1. June 1-November 16: Physically distant and hyper-local; focus on coastal areas near you, alone or with family or quarantine bubble.
  2. November 28-December 16: More traditional; organized events and bioblitzes.

Getting started is a snap:

  1. Download the iNaturalist app for iPhone or Android
  2. Create an account to start making observations
  3. Join the Snapshot Cal Coast Summer & Fall 2020 project
  4. Sign up for a beach that needs data, or choose a beach or coastal area you can visit regularly
  5. June 1-November 16: Head to the coast on your own or with your family or quarantine bubble to make and share observations of plants and animals you see, especially species on our most-wanted list
  6. Observe during low tide: Reference this list of California low tides and NOAA’s tide table to find exact times for low tides near you
  7. Spread the word! Use hashtag #SnapshotCalCoast on social media

Always remember to follow the tidepooling best practices for your safety and the protection of seaweeds and animals:

  • Never remove any animals or seaweeds.
  • Take care to step on bare rock wherever possible.
  • Never move animals from place to place.
  • Never ‘roll’ rocks.

Important! Please follow all local laws and respect beach closures and physical distancing rules. Check out this regularly updated list of beach closures and rules.

In addition to documenting as many species as possible from as many places as possible, we are also interested in learning more about a handful of “most-wanted” species and groups. These include introduced species for which we have limited data on their ranges, species whose ranges are affected by changing oceanic conditions and habitat modification, and species that are affected by emerging diseases.

How we are using these data?

Map of California with MPAs highlighted

Citizen science—the involvement of non-scientists in the production of scientific knowledge—can generate biodiversity data at spatial and temporal scales difficult to achieve by other approaches. Our team—a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)—is building the capacity to use citizen science observations to understand and monitor biodiversity across California’s MPA network.

Over the last decade, the Citizen Science team at the Academy has been developing a community of naturalists—scientists and non-scientists alike—working together to document biodiversity, connecting people to their local nature and simultaneously collecting data critical to science and management. In particular, a number of ongoing Academy citizen science initiatives focus on California’s coastal ecosystems. These include Snapshot Cal Coast, City Nature Challenge, and more frequent but more spatially limited community bioblitzes and intertidal monitoring.

All of these biodiversity observations are collected and aggregated using iNaturalist, a platform shared by a global network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists contributing biodiversity observations over space and time. It achieves this via a set of technological tools that facilitate the recording, sharing, and visualization of detailed biodiversity information.

The newest member of the Academy Citizen Science Team, Giovanni Rappacuiolo, has developed innovative approaches and tools to make use of the Academy’s citizen science efforts and iNaturalist community-contributed observations in support of California’s long-term MPA Monitoring Action Plan. Our aims are twofold. First, to provide recommendations for increasing the usefulness of ongoing citizen science data collection and leveraging iNaturalist observations to understand and monitor MPA biodiversity and to inform MPA management. Second, to generate knowledge of California coastal ecology and understand the effects of changing ocean conditions by examining spatial and temporal variation in community diversity and its drivers and documenting and understanding species’ range shifts.