Calling all surfers, divers, snorkelers, or any person who likes a day at the beach: Have you ever considered yourself a “citizen scientist?”

Well, now you can! (Yes, folks, there’s an app for that).

goFlow is a new social networking application where reports of coral bleaching and reef health can be logged and tracked by the general population for ongoing exploration by Columbia University scientists receiving the data.

underwater fish and reef

image: blog.goflow.me

The goal of this citizen science project appropriately named “Bleach Patrol” is to monitor coral bleaching events as they occur, in real time, from participating ‘citizen scientists’ all around the world. Local updates can include text, photos, and even positive feedback about healthy-looking coral reefs.

Ideal observations for the data scientists are from people who frequent the same location, reporting changes day-to-day, or week-to-week. The scientists plan to use the reports in many ways including sampling specific areas or coordinating satellite imagery that follow bleaching patterns over a period of time. The ongoing building of this dataset will help create a wide geographic map of patterns that may or may not coincide with other oceanic and weather conditions. This type of project far outreaches what any single research organization could do on its own.

What is WSL P.U.R.E. 

logo for WSL PURE

The World Surf League is an organization that runs professional surfing events around the world. They have teamed up with a group of surfer-scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to launch the Bleach Patrol project (and WSL PURE) in hopes that citizens “can become the eyes of the scientists and contribute to global understanding of coral reefs” (ldeo.columbia.edu).

The model of WSL PURE stands for Progressive Understanding of Respect for the Environment. Because the surfing community has the utmost desire to understand and protect the ocean environment, it is fitting that WSL is providing $1.5 million to advocate for a global effort of ocean education.   “By creating a generation of ‘surfer scientists,’ we aspire to create a voice for the oceans and empower our global fan base and partners to become better informed about the issues plaguing the oceans, while providing educational opportunities so that we can develop real-world solutions,” said WSL CEO, Paul Speaker (climateandlife.columbia.edu). WSL’s first year of funding will focus on 5 areas of research: ocean health and ecosystems, sea level rise, oceans and climate, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching.

cell phones

image: blog.goflow.me

With the goFlow app in place, and the Bleach Patrol project underway, thousands of GPS-tagged reports, photos and videos streaming from people all over the world can give a visual for not only where coral reef damage is occurring but how it begins and even spreads. The app also provides a social aspect where participants can see and read where other folks are tracking similar data.

Help maintain the 71%

rolling sets

Image: Chandler

Things we know:

  • 71% of our earth’s surface is ocean.
  • The world ocean is integral to all known life.
  • The ocean forms part of the carbon cycle and influences climate and weather patterns.
  • The oceans are bustling with life, beauty, and bounty beyond the naked eye!

But because the ocean stores the vast majority of the earth’s heat, the temperature at the surface can vary season-to-season. When unusually warm waters linger longer than normal (like during an El Nino year), coral will expel the microscopic, symbiotic algae that produce much of their food. Coral will then lose their coloring, and the white skeletons will become exposed causing reefs to become more vulnerable to diseases and other stresses.

The satellite views of our planet show a hot mess of ‘watch zones’ when it comes to tracing coral bleaching. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch publishes a coral bleaching map based on water temperature changes. In the darkest marked areas, where the alert level is highest, an entire reef colony may never recover.

Acropora Coral Bleaching in AustraliaLocal pressures of overfishing and water pollution threaten marine life and ocean ecosystems. Healthy coral reefs are the stunningly beautiful environments that protect our coastlines from storm erosion and provide habitats for young fish and marine biodiversity. Deep-sea corals are also being targeted in the search for new medicines. But when the otherwise vibrant colors of coral reefs are plagued with ghostly bleaching, we must find ways to contribute to the solution.

Finding a solution to a problem is not always quick, but social media might be the quickest moving thing our world has ever seen!  Become a ‘citizen scientist’ on the goFlow app contributing to the sustainability of our beaches and oceans.

Also use the app to track surf conditions and other outdoor sporting details and locations.

Already using the goFlow app?  Tell us about it.

References:

ldeo.columbia.edu

climateandlife.columbia.edu

coralreef.noaa.gov

World Surf League

goFlow.me