Updated article coming in 2020

Many community members play an important role in monitoring the health of Howe Sound. Citizen science effort is increasing and contributes to a positive sense of place.

Authors: Bob Turner, Geoscientist and Citizen Scientist, Bowen Island, Howe Sound

Will Husby, Biologist, Citizen Scientist, and Nature Interpreter, Ecoleaders Interpretation, Bowen Island

Reviewers: Jessica Schultz, Howe Sound Research Program, Vancouver Aquarium

John Buchanan, Citizen Scientist, Squamish

Glen Dennison, Marine Life Sanctuaries Society

Banner Photo Credit: Bob Turner

What’s happening?


Citizen scientists are critical “eyes on the Sound” and keen explorers, advocates and ambassadors for Howe Sound’s nature and health. For example, research work by the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society led to the successful extension of Halkett Bay Provincial Park in 2016 to include offshore glass sponge gardens and bioherms. Mapping of herring spawn by Squamish-based citizen scientist John Buchanan is used as evidence by advocacy groups to respond to the design and location of the Woodfibre LNG plant. In 2016, citizen science groups and individuals alerted the public, researchers, and agencies to the record low number of bald eagles wintering in the Squamish area, the upsurge of orca visits to Howe Sound, and the surprising abundance of anchovy in outer Howe Sound that may be related to the best recreational Chinook fishery in decades.


Volunteers and biologists surveying intertidal life on Bowen Island under the Coastal Scene Investigation program run by Dr. Shannon Bard. (Photo: Bob Turner)

Why is it important?


Citizen science is a global movement through which scientists and non-scientists work in partnership to conduct scientific research. It engages hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people of all ages, occupations, and locations, and helps scientists accomplish tasks that could not otherwise be undertaken. Non-scientists also set up research projects that ask questions of local importance that may be too small or isolated to be initiated by scientists alone. They range from one day ‘bioblitzes‘ (an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area) to multi-year breeding bird surveys. The most important characteristic is public participation in genuine scientific research.

Citizen science projects bring science and scientists into the public eye and increase local appreciation and understanding of science. Individuals are motivated to engage in citizen science largely to help the environment or their community, to contribute to scientific knowledge or to learn, develop scientific skills, or be outdoors.


(Photo: Bob Turner)

The degree of community member involvement in citizen science projects varies. “Contributory” projects are designed by scientists while members of the public contribute data. In “collaborative” projects community participants also collect data and some help to refine project design, analyze data, and/or disseminate findings. “Co-created” projects are designed by scientists and members of the public together, and some community participants are involved in most or all steps of the scientific process. The highest levels of community engagement are in self-created projects, run by lay people with advanced scientific knowledge and the skills to develop and manage studies on levels equal to those of professional scientists.

First Nations Connections


First Nations artists have long interpreted and communicated the natural world to others with a sense of place that may be similar to today’s citizen scientists.

Squamish pictograph found in Howe Sound near Enwilh Spalhxen (Furry Creek). (Photo: Gary Fiegehen)

Squamish pictograph found in Howe Sound near Enwilh Spalhxen (Furry Creek). (Photo: Gary Fiegehen)


“Artistry has always been widespread in the Squamish culture.  Men carve and women weave. Women weave healing and protecting powers into the items they make. Carved tools were adorned with designs depicting the owner’s spirit helpers. A beautifully carved halibut hook, for example, honoured and pleased the fish, which brought the fishermen good luck.

The Squamish Nation has more than 250 registered artists working in a range of mediums: jewelers, printmakers, wood carvers, stone and bone carvers, sculptors, potters, glassworkers, fashion designers and textile and beading artisans.

For the Squamish Nation, our art, songs, and stories have spiritual significance because the maker of the art has connections to the land and seas. Consequently, we hold all artists — whose art we believe comes from dreams, visions or other spiritual connections — in high regard.”

 – content reproduced with permission from “Where Rivers, Mountains and People Meet,” Squamish Líl’wat Cultural Centre.

What is the current status?


More than 20 different projects in Howe Sound draw on citizen scientists and over half of those began operating prior to 2000. 

A broad range of citizen science activities are currently underway in Howe Sound. Some are year round, while others follow the seasonal rhythms of nature. The number of citizen science activities and participation seems to be increasing with five new activities started since 2010; however, more than half of the activities listed have been occurring regularly since before the turn of this century. Citizen science is not new, but it may be growing in its sophistication, as well as in recognition and acknowledgement of the benefits. We highlight three differing citizen science enterprises to illustrate the range of community engagement in Howe Sound (download the full article). Other citizen science activities have contributed elsewhere in this report (e.g., see Bald Eagles article, Marine Birds article, and Annapolis article).


Volunteer diver collecting data. (Photo: Donna Gibbs)

What can you do?

Some Actions Contributed by CORI


Individual and Organization Actions:

  • Get involved with an ongoing citizen science project in Howe Sound.
  • Share your photos and videos of Howe Sound nature on your favourite social media platform.
  • Join NatureWatch, a partnership of Nature Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation to engage Canadians in four ongoing citizen science projects: FrogWatch, PlantWatch, IceWatch and WormWatch.
  • Donate. Almost all the groups engaged in citizen science projects in Howe Sound are non-profit groups and projects depend upon donations to continue.
  • Learn more about citizen science and how to do it at Citizen Science Central sponsored by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.
  • Encourage citizen science participation within your company or organization (e.g., Use citizen science participation to give back to the community, and serve as a team-building exercise).


Government Actions and Policy:


  • Continue to support and raise awareness of the ongoing citizen science projects within Howe Sound (see pdf of full article).
  • Provide and maintain a central portal of information including; citizen science project listings, data gathering, community training, and a tool-kit for best practices of designing and maintaining citizen science projects.
  • Provide resources needed to enhance and continue local citizen science projects as funding permits.
  • Promote closer relationships with stakeholders to citizen science projects in order to facilitate further participation and awareness.
  • Increase the use of citizen science data contributing to natural resource and environmental science, natural resource management, and environmental protection and policy making.
  • Develop policy to recognize and weigh citizen science, in addition to other scientific evidence and traditional knowledge, submitted for review in the environmental assessment process.
  • Invite citizen scientist representation at public engagement events for policies and management to add their voice to input throughout decision-making processes.
  • Partner with non-government organizations and other groups to create more citizen science projects on diverse subjects.

Additional Content and References in Full Article

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