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Spotlight on Citizen Science: The Coastal Research Volunteer Program (Sherri Townsend)

By: NOAA Office of Education
11 September 2017

The Coastal Research Volunteer program, a program of NH Sea Grant, connects volunteers with researchers and natural resource managers in the New Hampshire Seacoast to work on a variety of coastal research projects such as glass eel surveys, beach profiling, sand dune restoration and research, horseshoe crab surveys, oyster research, rockweed phenology and salt marsh monitoring. Here we profile long time citizen scientist, Sherri Townsend.

How did you find out about the CRV program?

Initially I started with Great Bay Coast Watch (GBCW; the precursor to the Coastal Research Volunteer program) in 2004. I got started because I homeschooled my children and I was looking for authentic science opportunities for my younger son. I wanted to expose my kids to research and fieldwork. GBCW was looking for volunteers to conduct water quality monitoring in the Great Bay Estuary (NH) and so I signed us up. It was a great experience for both me and my son. So I started because of my children.

After my children got older and were no longer doing this, I decided to continue on as a citizen scientist with the Coastal Research Volunteer program. I love it. The people are really great. I met people from all walks of life – both the other volunteers and the researchers – and I get to participate in fieldwork and research. I am an alumna of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and it’s been a life goal of mine to work at UNH’s Jackson Estuarine Laboratory (JEL). CRV has given me the opportunity to work at JEL alongside research professors to collect data on NH’s coast.

How did you get hooked on this?

I really like helping professors and graduate students to collect data. I know it takes a lot of people to get the data collected. I like being the boots on the ground, just like our logo. I like working hard to help get good research done. If we’re not doing it, it might not get done. Plus, getting more people involved through citizen science helps bring more perspectives to the research.

Sherri measuring beachgrass.

Sherri measures growth and survival of beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) in the Common Garden, a nursery of native sand dune plants used in local restoration efforts. (Photo credit: Malin Clyde)

What are the joys you find in this work?

I like seeing areas that I otherwise wouldn’t know existed. I’ve been to marshes and rocky coves and streams and beaches. I’ve found so many little gems right in my own backyard. I also really like getting to see the data. It feels good to help people get work done and then see the results – to see what you’ve contributed to science.

I also like having to deal with the unexpected aspect of field ecology and having to make an educated, decision on the spot. That’s what science is – it throws you a curve ball and you have to figure it out. The CRV program has really good training and support so we feel prepared to do this. These research projects are brand new to us and can be intimidating – like anesthetizing an eel – and we feel prepared to do this. For instance, we went out to collect beach profiling data and our site was covered in so much snow that we could not get our profiling rod down to the sand. So we measured the exposed part of the benchmark and the height of the snow bank to determine our starting elevation and documented everything we did on our data sheets. I like the moments in the field of “what do we do now” where you have to figure out a plan, document it and keep going.

Favorite CRV experience

My favorite CRV experience has to be bringing my kids back out with me as adults. My younger son first came out when he was 11 to do water quality monitoring and now, as a mathematician, he came out with me at age 22 to collect beach profiling data and plant sand dunes. My daughter, a veterinarian, came out with me to survey glass eels. It was so much fun to be out in the field with them as adults and let them see what I am doing.

What advice do have for folks who are curious about citizen science?

Connect with your local Sea Grant program to see what citizen science programs they might offer. Or talk with a citizen scientist that you know and find out from them how they got involved. It’s so interesting and so much fun!

Find more information on the Coastal Research Volunteer Program at

Story told to Alyson Eberhardt
Coastal Ecosystems Specialist NH Sea Grant, UNH Extension

This post originally appeared on the NOAA Education and Outreach Facebook page.