Analyzing Use of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) from a Citizen and Community Science Dataset

Pacific ocean waves against rocky beach/cliffs

In recent years, public participation in data collection has made a variety of new data sets available. These community and citizen science efforts not only provide increased opportunity to generate novel insights, but also engage the public in the research process and grow widespread appreciation for local systems. For instance, through the MPA Watch program, over 1,500 volunteer surveyors played a crucial role in collecting data about California’s marine protected areas (MPAs). These data help California policymakers conserve and manage the state’s ocean and coastal habitats.

MPA Watch is a community and citizen science program which recruits and trains volunteer surveyors to collect accurate, accessible, and scientifically useful data about human activity around their local coastline. These data improve our understanding of how MPAs are used by the public, what ecosystem services they provide, and their effectiveness in providing healthy habitats for wildlife.

DataLab collaborated with the UC Davis Center for Community and Citizen Science and the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior to analyze data recorded by volunteer surveyors over the past decade. Partners and funders for this effort include the California Ocean Protection Council, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Resources Legacy Fund, and the Green Info Network.

Together, we applied data visualization and statistical modeling techniques to detect patterns of use at marine protected areas and unprotected “control” areas along California’s coast. Our interdisciplinary team also developed a plan and report to communicate these results clearly and effectively to policymakers.

These and additional results will inform California’s broad review of the first decade of MPA implementation, highlight areas for improvement in the MPA Watch program, and potentially lead to future research possibilities.