Measuring Human Use of Ocean Resources

MPA Watch, an innovative citizen science network in California, is measuring human use of coastal and ocean resources. We’re working with them to improve their scientific methods and help them partner with scientists and natural resource managers who can use their data.


MPA Watch programs are developing an important capacity that has been lacking in California. It is difficult to know how people are using and enjoying coastal resources–e.g., fishing, SCUBA diving, sunbathing, tidepooling–and how those patterns of use are changing over time. By training volunteers to collect data about human activity along the coast, local MPA Watch programs from San Diego to Sonoma are addressing this knowledge gap.


With nine MPA Watch programs operating along the California coast, it is important that they share a common understanding of how volunteers should interpret and record what they see, so that data are comparable across programs. With our guidance, the programs  developed a core set of data categories and guidelines that would ensure consistency, while allowing flexibility for each group to pursue its particular priorities.

Together, we are now shifting our focus to the analytical challenge of working with MPA Watch data. What kinds of questions can these data answer? What kinds of analyses are appropriate and feasible? How does this match up with the interests and needs of potential users such as scientists and MPA managers?


Each local MPA Watch group has existing relationships with local entities, such as a local warden, a local council, or the staff of a local state park who may use the information they collect. But there are many other potential users in academia, state government, and beyond, who would be interested in statewide data, rather than local results. Together with MPA Watch programs, we have established an advisory group of members from natural science, social science, California State Parks, and enforcement and management representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Conversations with the Advisory Group are helping MPA Watch programs to make choices that increase the credibility and usefulness of their data in the eyes of these experts.


Technology can be extremely useful in supporting a distributed network of organizations, and the complex task of collecting data consistently. We are working with GreenInfo Network and MPA Watch programs to develop a platform that streamlines and improves data entry and data management. In addition to helping with implementation of the program, this platform also enhances the transparency of MPA Watch methods, and accessibility of its data. MPA Watch anticipates launching an online viewer, which will allow anyone to explore the data and learn about changing patterns of human activity along the California Coast.

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