Interested in participating in a fun citizen science project this fall? From now until Sept. 23, the Shaw Institute and Schoodic Institute are asking the public to help collect photos of sea stars found along the Maine coast, specifically between Schoodic Point and Stonington.
Also known as starfish, sea stars are aquatic creatures that are often found in tide pools and shallow saltwater areas. Clinging to rocks, these bumpy, star-shaped animals underwent massive die-offs in the early 2000s due to disease, but they appear to be bouncing back — at least in some locations.
This year, in some of the institutes’ research locations near Blue Hill and Winter Harbor, scientists are finding unusually large numbers of sea stars, and they want to find out if this phenomenon is more widespread.
To cover as much ground (and water) as possible, the institutes are asking the public to help. So if you find yourself walking along a Maine beach between now and Sept. 23, consider looking for these iconic ocean creatures. And if you do find a sea star, take a photo and share it.
The institutes are interested in the approximate size of sea stars as well, so carry a ruler with you to place beside the sea star — or you can simply put your hand in the photo to give them an idea of the size. Do not pick up the sea star. If you do, the scientists won’t be able to see where it was living.
There are three ways to share your photos with the institutes and contribute to the project.
1. Upload your photos to iNaturalist, a free smartphone app used for collecting and sharing nature observations.
2. Or post your photos to social media with the tag #WeSeaStars, tagging the location.
3. Or send your photos, including the location and time when photographed, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While participating, be sure to stay safe. Check tide charts so you know when the tide will be low, which will offer you more ground — and tide pools — to search for sea stars. Wear sturdy shoes and exercise caution on slippery rocks and seaweed. Also, if walking across private land to access the intertidal zone, acquire landowner permission first.
For more information about the project and how to participate, visit https://schoodicinstitute.org/we-see-stars-a-call-to-five-arms-from-schoodic-to-stonington/.