Session Chairs: Hillary K Burgess, University of Washington; Sherry Lippiatt, NOAA Marine Debris Program

 This session will focus on best practices in citizen science for marine debris monitoring.

 With many potential benefits, from an engaged and informed community of participants, to generation of high quality high resolution data at scales that would otherwise be impossible, citizen science is a growing field that has applications to coastal and marine research and monitoring. How do we ensure that these benefits are realized within the increasing number of citizen science projects devoted to marine debris? This symposium will explore best practices and lessons-learned for citizen science, in particular marine debris citizen science, to achieve project goals that range from the personal (education, outreach) to the scientific (data and science generation that can inform solutions to environmental problems). Presentations in this session should draw from the experience of existing citizen science practitioners and researchers to make recommendations for program development and management. Topics to be considered include strategies for: participant recruitment, retention and communication; ensuring and measuring data quality; developing protocols and materials that facilitate data quality and learning; promoting and measuring learning outcomes; and data management and delivery.




Increasing Volunteer Engagement in an Agency-Led Citizen Science Initiative: Lessons Learned From Six Years of the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project

presenting: Sherry Lippiatt (NOAA Marine Debris Program, United States); authors: Sherry Lippiatt (NOAA Marine Debris Program, United States), Carlie Herring (NOAA Marine Debris Program)

The Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project, or MDMAP, is a NOAA citizen science initiative that engages partners and volunteers in documenting the amount and types of shoreline marine debris (2.5 cm and larger). Each partner in the MDMAP network selects a nearby shoreline monitoring site to survey and submits data to NOAA’s MDMAP Database ( monitoring data can be used to identify the most common debris items, assess trends over time, and evaluate the effectiveness of debris prevention efforts. The MDMAP was launched in the US Pacific States as part of the NOAA response to debris generated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Since 2012 over 300 shoreline sites have been surveyed, and the program is expanding to other regions. In order to continue to engage volunteers as concern about tsunami debris has waned, in June of 2016 NOAA launched an online toolbox ( with resources for new and existing MDMAP partners and volunteers. This presentation will provide an overview of MDMAP resources, lessons learned, and challenges with volunteer engagement in the absence of on-the-ground staff.


Exploring the Australian Marine Debris Initiative

presenting: Heidi Taylor (Tangaroa Blue Foundation, Australia); authors: Heidi Taylor (Tangaroa Blue Foundation, Australia)

Tangaroa Blue Foundation (TBF) is the leading marine debris organisation in Australia. Our motto is — if all we do is clean-up, that’s all we will ever do. Stopping litter at its source is our aim. TBF created the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) in 2004, gathering data from clean-ups around the country to create a databank of evidence on which to base solutions. The AMDI helps communities look after their coastal environment by providing resources and support programs, and collaborates with industry and government to create change on a large scale.

To date, over 10 million individual items have been logged during 10 000 plus clean-up events across Australia, harnessing more than 90 000 citizen scientists and partners.

The effort and impact of the AMDI and its citizen scientists is enormous. The database is the largest and longest running database of marine debris in Australia and has assisted in the creation of more than 100 individual Source Reduction Plans, stopping marine debris before it enters the environment.

The success of this long-term program hinges around changing volunteers’ perception of their clean-up activities. By providing them with skills, knowledge and a framework, volunteers are no longer rubbish collectors, instead they become citizen scientists that are contributing to real change in their communities and across the country.

This session will explore the AMDI framework, resources and database, successes and challenges in stopping marine debris at the source using a national collaborative network of partners and citizen scientists.


Citizen Science for Better Management: Lessons Learned from Three Norwegian Beach Litter Data Sets

presenting: Jannike Falk-Andersson (Norut Northern Research Institute, Norway); authors: Jannike Falk-Andersson (Norut Northern Research Institute, Norway)

Increased plastic production and poor waste management have resulted in marine litter representing an ever increasing threat to the marine environment. monitoring of beach litter has been implemented to guide and evaluate effective mitigation measures with the aim of reducing the amount of litter entering the environment. Using data based on two citizen science protocols as well as OSPAR monitoring of Norwegian beaches, this study 1) identifies the most abundant litter, 2) compares the ‘professionally’ registered OSPAR data with citizen science data 3), examines how information from citizen science data could give more management relevant information, and 4) suggests some recommendations that enhance the relevance and reliability of citizen science data. Three groups of litter sources are identified as most abundant; food and drink related items, fishery related items, and unidentifiable plastic pieces. Considering litter composition and magnitude, data from citizen science are found to be comparable and consistence with OSPAR data over time and across space. One of the citizen science protocols were tailored for the litter situation in the area, significantly reducing the number of unidentified plastic pieces. This highlights how small adjustments in the protocols can give more management relevant data. The same dataset also differentiated between Norwegian and foreign drinking bottles. This provided a unique indicator on the degree to which the sources are national or global. The major limitation of the citizen science data was the lack of explanatory variables, but this could be significantly improved by recoding GPS positions.


The Global Microplastics Initiative: Engaging Outdoor Recreation Citizen Scientists in Monitoring of Microplastics to Affect Change

presenting: Abigail Barrows (Adventure Scientists, United States); authors: Katie Holsinger (Adventure Scientists, United States)

Since 2013, the montana-based conservation organization Adventure Scientists has mobilized a large team of citizen scientists to expose the alarming numbers of microplastics entering our waterways worldwide. To understand the breadth and depth of the microplastics problem facing marine systems, Adventure Scientists assembled a team of outdoor recreationists—capable adventurers committed to conservation—and trained them with a rigorous protocol as microplastics sample-collectors. To-date, over 1,000 volunteers have collected microplastic water samples as a part of the Global Microplastics Initiative. By engaging the outdoor community on this topic, we have been able to compile the most diverse, if not also largest, dataset representing microplastic pollution worldwide, including coverage over remote parts of the globe. Our partner scientist, Abigail Barrows, analyzes these samples for the quantity and type of microplastic particles—information essential to knowing the severity of the problem, and that may offer insight on how to address it. The primary goal of our Global Microplastics Initiative is to compile a dataset that can connect missing links in terms of our scientific understanding of microplastic pollution. This is made possible by meaningfully engaging our team of citizen science volunteers – from recruitment to training to monitoring – to ensure data quality and scientific rigor so that our data may be used confidently in decision-making. We consider our volunteers a vital component to our overall goal of understanding and addressing microplastic pollution and, through the experience we provide, we empower many as issue-advocates and community leaders.


Understanding Marine Debris in Belize through Citizen Science and Participatory GIS

presenting: Ashley Little (Georgia State University, United States); authors: Ashley Little (Georgia State University, United States), Christy Visaggi (Georgia State University), Timothy Hawthorne (University of Central Florida), Lain Graham (University of Central Florida), Christine Munisteri (Skidmore College), Nicholas Altizer (University of Central Florida), Caleb Ball (Ohio State University), Hannah Bonestroo (Macalester College), Saraneh Fitzgerald (Clark University)

As part of a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), our work combines Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and citizen science to gather and analyze baseline data including perceptions of marine debris by community members. Participatory GIS (PGIS) and sketch mapping were used to assess both natural and anthropogenic marine debris in the village of Hopkins, Belize. Quantitative and qualitative data collection methods were utilized in addition to tablets, drones, and an open access geodatabase. The type and function of debris items were characterized and sampled using quadrats both along transects and at random. In addition, debris hotspots were recorded by walking the beach as well as by asking community members in interviews where they perceived hotspots to be. Sampled debris sites were compared with community members’ perceptions of debris locations. Differences were identified between where the community perceived problematic areas to be and where debris was in fact documented at high concentrations, which has implications for litter prevention and clean up efforts. Use of PGIS for addressing marine debris offers underrepresented communities tools of empowerment to engage in the research process. Future goals of this research aim to build upon existing data through citizen science and to provide a platform upon which future data can be collected and updated. This community-based approach and open access format using GIS allows local stakeholders to collaborate in the research process and affect change in working with prospective policy makers to advocate for mitigation. Our combined approaches including the incorporation of perception data in analyzing marine debris using GIS has implications for replicability in citizen science efforts for coastal communities worldwide.


Citizen involvement in a HotSpot Survey about pathways of marine debris

presenting: Christian Aden (University of Oldenburg, Germany); authors: Christian Aden (University of Oldenburg, Germany), Katharina Stephan (University of Oldenburg)

The project “Macroplastics Pollution in the North Sea” funded by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture aims to investigate pathways and hotspots of macroplastics at the coast and along the shorelines of north-west Germany. An interdisciplinary consortium of physical oceanographers, physicists, geologists, biologists and environmental scientists, brings together different methods for modelling pathways of marine debris through data on currents, waves, wind and other environmental parameters on the one hand and citizen involvement in data collection on the other hand. For data collection we started the release of nearly one hundred thousand uniquely marked wooden drifters into the North Sea by October 2016, combined with a survey provided by the web-based Geospatial Content Management System HotSpot (GeoCMS). The GeoCMS offers a variety of modules for spatial data management, GIS-based analysis, OGC-based data provision as well as tools for data collection. A focus lies on the techniques and open source software used to develop the system and to provide the web-based report tool, the methods used to ensure data quality by an intelligible form of map-based reporting and the way to inform citizens via maps of release sites and reported drifters as well as dynamically processed cluster and heat maps of observations. After one year of citizen involvement and the release of 24.400 wooden drifters, the free accessible web-portal has been used for the submission of 12.144 observations (9772 unique IDs) from the coastlines of Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The coordinates of release sites and observations now are to be used by project partners to model hotspots of marine debris and to improve backward movements models which may lead to possible sources of marine litter.


Exploring motivations, recruitment, and retention of participants in COASST

presenting: Hillary Burgess (University of Washington, United States); authors: Hillary Burgess (University of Washington, United States), Yurong He (University of Washington), Julia Parrish (University of Washington)

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a rigorous and successful citizen science program established in 1999 to monitor beachcast seabirds along the northwest coast of the United States. In 2013, COASST began developing a new data collection module focused on marine debris and the program launched in mid-2016. These two modules, developed with the same model, approach and philosophy, present an opportunity to examine several questions and challenges relevant to broader growth and development of citizen science programs, namely: What motivates participants in each module? Will recruitment and retention factors be the same? How can we ensure that relevant, high quality data are collected while balancing participant interests and abilities? Here, we present lessons-learned from running a long-term project, developing a new one, and preliminary results from a series of evaluative pre and post participation surveys that elucidate challenges and opportunities for tackling environmental problems through public participation in scientific research and monitoring.


Dive Against Debris®: Lessons Learned, Challenges and Future Opportunities

presenting: Hannah Pragnell-Raasch (Project AWARE, United States); authors: Hannah Pragnell-Raasch (Project AWARE, Australia)

Significant data gaps exist regarding quantitative information on the extent of marine debris, particularly for the underwater realm. In order to close that data gap, in June 2011 Project AWARE® launched Dive Against Debris®, a global marine debris survey focused explicitly on yielding data on underwater debris from the seafloor. Scuba divers are engaged in the removal and reporting of debris items encountered at dive sites across the globe, building critical quantitative evidence about the types and quantities of marine debris. Additionally, the impacts marine debris has on marine life is captured including entanglement, injury and death. Debris-free sites are also reported.

Project AWARE has developed an array of online and offline tools to recruit, retain and train participants from a global community spanning a variety of demographics, geographic locations and cultures: through more than 5,000 surveys, over 25,000 scuba divers have participated in Dive Against Debris across 65 different countries.

The web-based interactive Dive Against Debris map and the Dive Against Debris mobile app are examples of two strategic innovative technological tools developed to support education and outreach as well as scientific program goals.

To accommodate the varying degrees of commitment, a range of engagement tactics have been developed: from providing additional training through the Dive Against Debris Distinctive Specialty through to the Adopt A Dive Site™ initiative exemplifying the highest level of commitment whereby participants are required to conduct at least one Dive Against Debris survey at their adopted site per month.

In this presentation we highlight lessons learned from the past 6 years of the program to help inform current and future marine debris data collection efforts involving citizen scientists.


Citizen scientists reveal: marine litter pollutes Arctic beaches and affects wild life

presenting: Melanie Bergmann (Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany); authors: Melanie Bergmann (Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany), Birgit Lutz, Mine B. Tekman, Lars Gutow

Recent data indicate accumulation areas of marine litter in Arctic waters and significant increases on the seafloor over time. Beaches on remote Arctic islands may be sinks for marine litter and reflect pollution levels of the surrounding waters particularly well. We provide the first quantitative data from surveys carried out by citizen scientists, which participated in sailing cruises around Svalbard in 2016. Litter quantities on six beaches varied from 9 – 524 g m-2 and were similar to those from densely populated areas. Plastics accounted for > 80% of the overall litter, most of which originated from fisheries. Photographs provided by citizens show deleterious effects of beach litter on Arctic wildlife including polar bears (Ursus maritimus), which is already under strong pressure from global climate change. Our study highlights the potential of citizen scientists to provide scientifically valuable data on the pollution of sensitive remote ecosystems. Similar programmes could be adopted in other poorly sampled areas of the world to increase our knowledge base and to stimulate a sense of connectedness with the environment visited.


Participatory Sensing Marine Debris: The Marine Debris Tracker Mobile App

presenting: Katherine Shayne (University of Georgia, United States); authors: Katherine Shayne (University of Georgia, United States), Jenna Jambeck (University of Georgia), Chris Wilcox (CSIRO)

Marine Debris Tracker (MDT) is a mobile app and citizen science program originally sponsored by the NOAA Marine Debris Program and launched in 2011. At the time, MDT was the first app of its kind, allowing users to report litter anywhere in the world. In its more than 6 year timeframe of use, the app and program has helped collect data on over 1 million debris items across the globe. Besides collecting data, the app itself serves as an outreach and education tool, creating an engaged participatory sensing instrument. Also, important to Marine Debris Tracker is open data and transparency. A web portal provides data that users have logged allowing immediate feedback to users and additional education opportunities. The engagement of users through a top tracker competition and social media keeps participants interested in the Marine Debris Tracker community. The MDT community and dataset continues to grow daily, including into the open ocean with adoption of use by the Volvo Ocean Race and onto land in countries like Vietnam. We will present current usage and engagement, participatory sensing data distributions, areas of active tracking, and statistical analysis of the opportunistic data collected by the app, which has proved to be a challenge to analyze. We will also share lessons learned and discuss future technologies and platforms that can be used by others to expand data collection, analysis and citizen engagement.


Marine LitterWatch – citizen science-based app

presenting: Štefan Trdan (Institute for Water of the Republic of Slovenia, Slovenia); authors: Štefan Trdan (Institute for Water of the Republic of Slovenia, Slovenia), Ana Tejedor (European Environment Agency), monika Peterlin (Institute for Water of the Republic of Slovenia)

Litter, plastics in particular, is accumulating in our seas and coasts, mainly due to current unsustainable consumption and production patterns, poor waste management, and the lack of public awareness. The European Environment Agency launched Marine LitterWatch (MLW) in 2014, as a citizen science-based platform to help fill data gaps on beach litter and support community engagement in tackling the problem of marine litter. The European Union is addressing the problem of marine litter through the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which requires Member States to monitor the state of our seas and take the measures needed to reach or maintain its ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020. MLW aims to collect data on marine litter on beaches relevant for the MSFD, to support official monitoring, with the help of interested citizens and communities. It also allows the collection of data from non-official initiatives, such as clean-ups. MLW builds on the MSFD monitoring guidelines , developed by the Technical Group on Marine Litter, a group of experts established to support the MSFD implementation. By the end of 2017, around 30 actively involved communities and citizens collected 655.320 items during 1.407 litter collection events from across Europe´s seas. The one-month pilot (The Marine Litter Watch month) deployed a harmonised methodology for carrying out beach surveys, using monitoring protocols (DeFishGear, 2016), that are in line with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) monitoring guidelines. MLW month took place on 33 European beaches from 17 September to 16 October 2016.