Skip to content. Skip to navigation

Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Kate Litle

Program Coordinator for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST)

Kate Litle is the Program Coordinator for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington-a citizen science program that teaches local coastal residents to find and identify beached birds as a way to monitor nearshore environmental health.  Kate has worked with COASST since 2002, helping the program to grow from 100 volunteers and 50 beaches in Washington to more than 400 participants and 250 beaches stretching from Arcata, CA to the Pribilof Islands in

the Bering Sea.  In addition to working for COASST, Kate is also completing a Master's Degree at the UW School of Marine Affairs, focusing on citizen science program design.

Seabirds and Citizen Science: The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) is a citizen science project of the University of Washington in partnership with local community and environmental organization, and state and federal agencies.  More than 400 COASST volunteers survey more than 250 beaches monthly in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska using beached birds as indicators of coastal environmental health. Volunteers are trained in a single day, armed with a protocol, field guide and volunteer pack, and collect data in pairs, identifying carcasses to lowest possible taxa via a deductive process that includes standardized measurements, foot type identification, and photographs, allowing for data verification by experts and tracking of volunteer accuracy (typically 90% to species). Data collected by COASST volunteers create the baseline, or 'normal,' pattern of beached bird deposition which allows for the detection of change from natural (e.g., El Nino) and human-induced (e.g., oil spills) causes. In COASST, citizens are collecting high-quality data that can directly inform natural resource management decisions, while becoming more informed and active stewards of the coastal environment.

Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

More about this...