A coastal zone is an interface between the land and sea. It is comprised of a continuum of coastal land, intertidal area, aquatic systems including the network of rivers and estuaries, islands, transitional and intertidal areas, salt marshes, wetlands, and beaches (Cicin-Sain and Knecht, 1998). The narrow transition areas that connect terrestrial and marine environments, are our planet’s most productive and valued ecosystems (Crossland et al., 2005). Sixty percent of the world’s major cities are located in coastal zones, and 40% of the all the people on earth live within 100 km of a coastal zone (Nicholls et al., 2007). Within coastal areas, are tightly intertwined relationships between humans and coastal resources amplifying crucial questions regarding limits and equilibrium, sustainability, and development.
A beach is a sandy, pebbly, or rocky shore of a body of water. Beach types vary widely, depending on location. In addition to the range of recreational opportunities they offer, beaches provide unique habitats for a variety of plants and animals. Beaches provide protection to residents living near the ocean by serving as a buffer against high winds and waves from powerful storms. Beaches contribute to economic activity essential to nearby communities.
Coastal areas are vulnerable to forces from the sea. Protection of coastal zones and beaches is a continuous challenge. Information and knowledge about wind, waves, depth conditions and sediments, pollution, human impacts are essential for protection of the coasts. Pollution at a beach can cause swimmers to become ill or trigger temporary closures that negatively affect the local economy. Additionally, overuse by visitors can damage sensitive habitats, such as beach dunes, and create marine debris.
Scientists around the world are monitoring how our planet is changing. They use tools, including satellites, thermometers, and tide gauges, to collect observations. However, not all collected observations are in the same format. As a result of that inconsistency, they can’t be easily used together. Also, there are gaps in the information that is collected. In the U.S., the Integrated Ocean Observing System, or IOOS®. Led by NOAA, IOOS coordinates federal and non-federal personnel and technology, building a network to fill observing gaps. IOOS is also establishing standards for data collection, so that data can be used together and be more accessible to users. All of this means more information, which means a more comprehensive understanding of our planet. Citizen involvement is also an essential vehicle for protecting and preserving coastal environments
Development, erosion, and other forces can alter the face of coastal landscapes. These changes can have implications for conservation, recreation, development, planning, and safety. NOS uses a range of tools to monitor changes in the shape of the coast. For instance, NOS uses Light Detection and Ranging (or LIDAR) technology to determine changes in coastal elevations. Satellite imagery and aerial photography are used by the Office for Coastal Management and the National Geodetic Survey to survey and create maps of the shoreline and track land cover change over time.
Sea level rise and other flood-related hazards can potentially have severe impacts. NOS assists coastal communities to move beyond a “one size fits all” approach when analyzing and planning for these threats. NOS has been measuring sea level for over 150 years, with tide stations operating on all U.S. coasts. NOS also offers the Coastal Inundation Toolkit, which enables users of any technical skill level to understand causes of inundation, identify local vulnerabilities, and communicate risks. Another helpful tool is the Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer, which shows how various levels of sea level rise are likely to impact coastal communities.
Estuaries are some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the world, supporting everything from fish, birds, and otters to mussels and plants. To monitor the health of these important habitats, NOS partners with 28 state-managed National Estuarine Research Reserves, that serve as living laboratories. One NERRS program is the System-Wide Monitoring Program. Scientists collect information such as temperature, salinity, pH, biodiversity, and population characteristics at reserves across the country.
Thousands of incidents occur each year in which oil or chemicals are released into the coastal environment. Spills into our coastal waters, whether accidental or intentional, can harm people, the environment, and the economy. To help, the Office of Response and Restoration has developed more than 3,300 Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps. These maps cover the majority of the U.S. coastline and include information on shoreline shape and biological and socioeconomic resources. The maps can be used to rank sensitivity to oil impact. They can also be used to assess coastal-erosion potential and coastal-storm vulnerability and for monitoring coastal changes.
Ports are lifelines for maritime commerce and the national economy. Inadequate or outdated navigational information would pose unacceptable risks to life, property, and coastal environments. In the U.S., to produce accurate charts for safe travels for commercial and recreational vessels the Office of Coast Survey conducts hydrographic surveys to measure water depths and locate elements that affect navigation. NOS also provides environmental observations and forecasts through programs such as the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System to help mariners safely navigate to port.
Benthic habitats support a wide variety of marine life, from corals and fish to clams, plants, and bacteria. The organisms in benthic habitats play important roles in ecosystem health by functioning as part of the ocean food web and helping to filter pollutants out of the water. Healthy habitats also play an important economic role by providing food, protecting areas from erosion, and sustaining tourism-related jobs. To map these habitats and assess how they are changing, NOS uses satellite and airborne sensors, acoustic imaging, photography, and benthic community analysis. Aerial photographs are also used to create maps of coral reefs and other habitats. And the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard provides a unifying framework allowing assessment of habitats on both a local and regional basis.
Human health is intricately connected to the health of the ocean. When water quality is poor, beaches dirty, or seafood tainted, communities, economies, and ecosystems all suffer. The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) monitors coastal contaminants and their effects on the local marine environment to identify problem areas that need attention. NOS also produces advance warnings of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and then provides science to monitor bloom development. HABs produce potent toxins, which can cause illness or death in humans and marine organisms.
Given proper tools, citizens may be able to function as scientists to observe and describe threats to coastal environments, and to actively protect beaches and coastal areas. Citizen scientists themselves may become more active and effective advocates as a result of their participation in a citizen science program. In this way, both the data and the learning outcomes synergistically support advocacy. More informed advocates may be more likely to push for change, causing change to occur more quickly (Toomey and Domroese, 2013).
Communication channels to policy-makers can be established, especially where the political interests of policy-makers align with the advocates. Issues previously unknown to or discounted by policy-makers may gain a higher political profile. Citizen science programs may be embedded in an organization that pursues advocacy goals and professionals in the organization can assist in the design of citizen science projects to directly inform the broader advocacy agenda. The constituency for the advocacy organization may expand. External advocates may make use of citizen science data independent of other connections to the project or organization.
The CALIFORNIA COASTAL RECORDS PROJECT https://www.californiacoastline.org/ founded in 2002, documents the California coastline with aerial photos taken from a helicopter flying parallel to the shore. Their webpage provides access to these images. One photo was taken every 500 feet. Over 88,000 photographs (totaling over 509GB) of the California coast are now online, covering from the Oregon Border (42N latitude) to the Mexican Border (32.5N latitude), except for the Vandenberg AFB restricted area. An additional 5833 images from 1972, 8000 images from 1979, 2890 images from 1986, 4173 images from 1987, 1074 images from 1989, and 2407 images from 1993 are now online.
The entire California coast is included, except sections of Vandenberg Air Force Base (although some historical photos are included from an earlier survey in 1989). Most of the coast has been photographed several times, and the website has an interface for comparing photos taken during different years. Kenneth and Gabrielle Adelman were recipients of the 2004 Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography from the Sierra Club for their work on the project.
Every mile of the Oregon coast is available for adoption. Any number of people can adopt a mile—the more eyes on the shore, the better. CoastWatch “mile adopters” monitor for a wide range of human impacts and natural phenomena. The CoastWatch report form (available online after you sign up) contains a checklist of things to observe. CoastWatchers are asked to carefully monitor their miles at least four times per year, once per quarter, although they are encouraged to check on their miles as often as possible.
While many CoastWatchers bring expertise in various fields to the work, the program was designed to be accessible for everyone. Participants may adopt any mile of the coast. An online form is available to sign up as a CoastWatch mile adopter. Or, participants can download a Word file, and email the completed form to [email protected] The basic CoastWatch commitment is simply four visits to the mile per year, one per quarter.