Calling All Boaters Who Like to Eat

‘Citizen scientists’ needed for global study of phytoplankton and the marine food chain.

Secchi Disk Project

The Secchi Disk Project being run out of a British university is seeking help from boaters around the world.

Plymouth University in England is seeking boaters the world over to become “citizen scientists” and create the biggest-ever global study of marine plankton, which supports the entire food chain in our oceans.

Two years ago, a group of Canadian marine scientists reported that phytoplankton in the oceans has declined globally by 40 percent since the 1950s because of climate change. Their study provoked controversy, in part because there is a lack of global data about marine phytoplankton. The team at Plymouth University is aiming to fill that void with its Secchi Disk Project, which asks boaters worldwide to fashion a small white disc, attach it to a tape measure and lower it into the water. When the disc disappears from sight, the depth is considered the Secchi Depth, influenced by the amount of phytoplankton in the water column.

Boaters can then upload their results via a smartphone app to the Secchi Disk Project’s database, which scientists at the university will use to further our understanding of what is happening in the world’s oceans.


“Because of the important role played by the phytoplankton in underpinning the whole marine food chain, we need to know if, how and why they are changing, and this is where we believe citizen science can help,” said Dr. Richard Kirby, the project’s leader.

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