Citizen science on the Solent

It's never been easier to help to look after our incredible marine wildlife, and it can be as simple as telling us what you find down on our coastlines.

It’s springtime, and all along our coast the relative quiet of the colder months is giving way to a flurry of wildlife activity. Take a stroll on our beaches at this time of year and you’re perfectly placed to see rapidly growing annual seaweeds, while beneath the waves the pace of life is quickening for our marine species as the weather grows warmer.

Right now our waters are teeming with the larvae of common starfish, which will spend 87 days feeding on plankton in the water column before settling on the seabed. This species is so fertile – a 14 cm common starfish can produce up to 2.5 million eggs at a time – that if every larva survived to adulthood they might well take over our shorelines!

Sea bass are also returning to their summer feeding grounds along the coast, having spent the winter months at their spawning grounds offshore to the west. Throughout spring, their newly hatched larvae will drift inshore to join our local bass nursery areas and remain there for up to five years before venturing more widely.

Species like these make the Solent a fascinating and valuable place, but sadly it is under increasing pressure from threats such as plastic pollution and climate change. Luckily, there’s an easy and accessible way that you can help to protect our marine environment, and that’s by getting involved in something called citizen science.

Common starfish © Lizzie Wilberforce

Common starfish © Lizzie Wilberforce

The concept of citizen science is a simple one: transforming small actions into big results. Initiatives that use this method pool data that has been collected by individual volunteers, such as species sightings or changes in a habitat. This creates data sets that are not only larger but also potentially more diverse and representative than could be achieved otherwise

For us at the Wildlife Trust, the impact of citizen science is invaluable. It allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the different species and habitats we encounter, which in turn shapes the work we do to protect them. The data can even provide vital evidence to support our pursuit of more extensive legal protections, such as Marine Conservation Zones.

This means that, by taking part in a citizen science initiative, you have the chance to make a real difference to a cause you believe in. Many initiatives also make their data public once it’s been processed, allowing you to see your contribution in its wider context, while knowing that you’ve helped to secure a bright future for our wonderful wildlife.

Common seals in Chichester Harbour

Common seals in Chichester Harbour © Chas Spradberry

Citizen science initiatives are easier to take part in than ever before, and often don’t require special knowledge or experience. Many, like reporting wildlife sightings, are easy to do while you’re already out and about. Others, like surveys of vulnerable species, are a great excuse for a day on the shore. Some can even be participated in from home; ideal if you’re short on time or can’t easily access the coast.

One great way to participate in citizen science is through our National Lottery Heritage Fund project, Secrets of the Solent, which is celebrating the amazing people and wildlife that share our waters. As the project progresses you’ll have the chance to learn more about the wonderful world of data, why it matters, and how you can help to keep the Solent special for many years to come.

Get involved

Share your sightings – report your local encounters with whales, dolphins, seals and other marine mammals to support our species monitoring.

Hit the beach – join our intertidal surveys to help collect data on the species and habitats found on our region’s shorelines.

Take the lead – sign up as a Marine Champion to lead other volunteers on our intertidal surveys, with full training and support provided.

Widen your reach – visit our Marine Citizen Science Day to learn how you can contribute to marine initiatives both locally and nationally.