Citizen Scientists Scour Ocean Beach in 'Bioblitz'

Lizette Guzman-Zaragoza, a botanist in San Francisco, holds a branch of conifer pine cones that she found during the bioblitz on Ocean Beach. (Muna Danish/KQED)

Sand dollars, bull kelp, jellyfish and even dead sea lions were among the plants and animals identified on Saturday as a group of citizen scientists attempted to build a "dynamic species atlas" at Ocean Beach.

Nearly 100 people participated in the "bioblitz" organized by the California Academy of Sciences, one of several the organization organizes each year and the first major one at Ocean Beach. Organizers hope to use the events to create a snapshot in time of what species are found in the area.

The bioblitzers walked along the coast and took photos of the species they encountered. They then uploaded them to an app called iNaturalist, which helps identify plant and animal species. Once identified, the data is shared with other databases for scientists and researchers to use.

Students from different California Academy of Sciences programs participated in the bioblitz.
Students from different California Academy of Sciences programs participated in the bioblitz. (Muna Danish/KQED)

“This is a way we can build a dynamic species atlas,” said Rebecca Johnson, who helps manage the Citizen Science program at Cal Academy. “We know that by having a lot of eyes we can find things even in places that are fairly well studied.”

Botanist Lizette Guzman-Zaragoza found a branch of conifer pine cones during the bioblitz. “Sometimes when we come to the beach we don’t pay attention to these things, and this is a great opportunity to go with a group of people that have some knowledge that can share that with you.”

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For example, while sand dollars — a flat sea urchin species — are found all up and down the coast, Johnson says they are keeping an eye out for a barnacle which only lives on sand dollars, in hopes of understanding how its range might be changing due to warming waters.

Sequoia Hack, 15, was one of many students who took part in the bioblitz.

“We’ve explored what shells are made of or what can help sustain the plants that live in the sand, and that’s really interesting to see the diversity or the non-diversity that the beach supports," said Hack, who's part of Cal Academy's Teen Advocates for Science Communication program.

The citizen scientists also came across a dead sea lion during the bioblitz. Johnson says researchers from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network will take the animal's head to try and determine what happened.
The citizen scientists also came across a dead sea lion during the bioblitz. Johnson says researchers from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network removed the animal's head to try and determine what happened. (Muna Danish/KQED)

While people were excited to learn about the different plants and animals they saw on the beach, they also got their hands dirty with litter that had washed up after recent storms.

“This is what I’m focused on is the trash,” said Laura Retzlaff of San Francisco. “It’s crazy how much plastic and bottle tops [there are]. And I’ve got flip-flops and Band-Aids and water bottle tops and flossing things, so we are taking pictures of shells, but what’s popping out to me is all the trash.”

Organizers say the next bioblitz will be held in March in San Mateo County.