Introduction

Every urban sandy beach in California, no matter how altered or how many millions of human visitors it accommodates, retains vital ecological functions. These functions include 1) physical processes such as shoreline protection and water filtration, 2) biological functions such as nutrient cycling through food webs and 3) nursery functions for many species including birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and invertebrates. To date no long-term, consistent monitoring program exists for evaluating ecosystem conditions on beaches. Little data exists to evaluate natural variation in sandy beach ecosystems. The lack of information impedes planning for conservation of these important coastal ecosystems. More data on the ecological condition of beaches in southern California are needed to address current and future pressures on these narrow fringing coastal ecosystems. Enhancing broader recognition of beaches as important and sensitive coastal ecosystems is crucial to conserving the biodiversity and wildlife that depend on them and the vital ecological functions beaches provide.

The Pilot Project

Participants of a "Working Group" represent universities, resource agencies, state parks, municipalities, independent consultants, museums, aquariums, beach managers, and environmental non-profit groups. The Group has developed a new method for ecological monitoring of sandy beaches that is suitable for use by citizen scientist volunteers. The method has been tested by a scientific team providing multiple observers at different types of beaches in southern California. The next phase of the project aims to validate the method using a focused pilot program that trains members of the public for community-based monitoring on two of their local beaches, in partnership with informal science educators and the scientific team. Volunteers will collect data that represent indicators of beach ecosystem health, using specific non-invasive, rapid monitoring protocols that have been developed. Examples of indicators include the presence or absence of a wide variety of plant and animal species, physical characteristics of the beach, and human activity.

Volunteer Commitment

Citizen Scientist Volunteers are required to attend a training session including a classroom and field portion, lasting about four hours total on one day. Volunteers will then monitor each of two beaches during the months of Oct/Nov and then Dec/Jan, for a total of four site visits. Specific dates and times are at the discretion of each volunteer, but monitoring near low tide is important. Each survey will require about two hours of volunteer time. After, we will hold a debriefing meeting sometime in Dec/Jan during which volunteers will provide feedback from their experiences.

Conclusion

Volunteers who commit to participation in this pilot study will provide invaluable information for the development of a more permanent, widespread program. This will include the expansion to additional beaches and reach a broader audience of Citizen Scientists, from the highly trained to the informal observer. We wish to enhance the perception and understanding of beaches as ecosystems and affect lasting conservation of these unique areas along our coastline. We hope that funding will be available to expand the program to more locations and more volunteers, in order to promote a long-term, sustainable monitoring effort along the coast of California.