Project information

Introduction and Background

Coastal change is a natural phenomenon that affects shorelines all over the world; wind, waves, and currents transport sediment to and from different coastal environments, constantly reshaping the shoreline (Massachusetts Shoreline Change Project, n.d.). Boston Harbor is exposed to the harsh effects of coastal change, with the major threats being sea level rise, coastal erosion, and increasing storm intensity. Continued sea level rise poses the threat of total submersion to small islands in the harbor such as Sheep Island. The issue of rising sea levels also multiplies the impact of storm surges; the combination of abnormally high water levels with storm surges can worsen the damage from the flooding. Erosion impacts all of the islands, has damaged or destroyed historical and archeological resources across the park, and will continue to harm more if not anticipated and prepared for (National Park Service, 2019c). Those factors pose a critical threat to the islands, the important resources on them, and the ecosystems they support. Boston Harbor holds much historical significance; the islands are rich in archeological Native American history and are tied to several wars.

To monitor the state of the many valuable natural and cultural resources in the park, Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park (BOHA) hosts various research projects/studies in the park, but they do not have any focused specifically on tracking the effects of coastal change. The NPS objectives for research studies are scientific validity, relevance to park management, and providing an educational and enjoyable experience for participants (National Park Service, 2006). Community science (CS) is a promising approach to fulfill these objectives because it can provide large amounts of accurate and relevant data that can be used to inform management decisions as well as providing an educational and engaging experience for the participants (Velde et al., 2017; Evans et al., 2005).  Community science has been used by BOHA, such as Stewardship Saturdays and the Coastal Breeding Bird Monitoring program (National Park Service, 2019e; National Park Service, 2019a). There are even more unaffiliated community science projects happening in the area around Boston, but there is a significant gap as well, with no projects focusing specifically on continued monitoring of the impact of coastal change on the Boston Harbor Islands.



The goal of this project was to create a rubric to evaluate community science programs and recommend community science programs to monitor coastal change in BOHA.

To accomplish this goal we:

  • Identified key aspects of community science program design as it relates to BOHA,
  • Identified the questions CS can help answer about coastal change
  • Developed Key Design Aspects of Community Science (KDACS),
  • Conceptualized and evaluated community science program ideas with KDACS.


To accomplish these objectives, we conducted a literature review, interviewed people involved in all roles of community science, and had weekly meetings with our sponsor.

To identify key aspects of community science program design, we researched several existing community science programs that focus on coastal change as well as one that focuses on the Boston Harbor Islands specifically to provide us with local considerations. We reviewed the methodology of those programs, identified features that would work in BOHA and fulfill our sponsor’s goals (or not), and gathered aspects that we wanted to focus on in our recommendations.

To identify the questions community science can help answer about coastal change, we reviewed literature focusing on the impact of coastal change on the Boston Harbor Islands and other coastal areas and we conducted several interviews of several local scientists and professionals that focus their efforts on measuring and evaluating the impact of coastal change. We also held weekly meetings with our sponsor which helped us understand and refine exactly what BOHA was looking to gain through answering these questions.

To develop KDACS, we conducted a literature review focused on the experiences and outcomes of participation in community science programs as well as interviews of several organizers and participants of community science programs. In the interviews with participants, we asked about the aspects of CS programs that participants enjoyed most, anything they’d change, and what their draw was to participating in the first place. For the interviews with organizers, we focused on the challenges of and considerations for organizing a community science program.

To develop our final recommendations, we went back through meeting minutes from meetings with our sponsor as well as with the professionals that we met with. We identified common themes that we could design a program around, or ideas that had been specifically recommended by anyone we spoke with. We then reviewed programs that are being conducted elsewhere in the New England region to determine if they could be implemented in BOHA. We created a list of all of these possible ideas, and evaluated them with KDACS to pare the list down to recommendations our team felt fit the criteria best and could feasibly be implemented.



This research led us to creating KDACS, seen below in its simplified form. KDACS lays out the most important aspects we’ve identified for participants in community science programs, BOHA, as well as aspects that are important to both.

E.S. 1: Key Design Aspects of Community Science (KDACS)


Recommendations for community science programs in BOHA

We developed three community science program recommendations that could be implemented by BOHA. All three are different with distinct goals and methodologies, but they all contribute to the overarching goal of using community science programs to create an early warning system for erosion that can help inform park management’s efforts to protect the islands.


Coastal Change Photo Hunt. The main idea of this program would be for BOHA to put posts with signs labelling various landmarks on the islands as photo spots. These photo spots would be located in places at high risk of coastal change. Participants could either pick up a map listing the photo spots and walk throughout the park on their own to visit however many of the spots they choose, or go on a guided tour led by a Park employee, and either way upload the photos they take to a curated database. The database would allow experts to observe changes in the shorelines of these locations and create a visual record of coastal change related damage for Park management. The main feasibility concerns for this project in general are the upkeep of the posts and signs, such as keeping them clean and repairing them from wear and tear, and the curation of the database to ensure quality of data. Some concerns specific to the guided tour are the scheduling aspect, as participants would most likely do tours outside of their work week and the tour schedule would have to accommodate that.


Mapping Island Risk. This program aims to create a detailed, dynamic map of all of the islands, and this required transportation to these islands. We recommend that an open faced landing boat is chartered to take a small group of participants are taken around the islands. The participants would land on certain islands to survey the effects of erosion, or lack thereof, on that island. They would receive training on identifying erosion prior to completing their first survey, and the first couple boat trips will be accompanied by a guide. This survey would ultimately be a simple form that the participants fill out where they identify spots which are eroding, spots which are at risk of eroding, and spots that are not eroding/have a low risk of eroding. This program is highly dependent on two factors; the weather and boat scheduling. Harsh weather in the harbor can make it unsafe for the participants to be out on the boat, and on the islands themselves. Secondly, there would need to be a boat chartered to take the participants out to the islands, as many are not accessible by public ferry. This means that the schedule for the program would be based around the boat availability.


Revealing Island Profiles. This program will follow preexisting methods, specifically the Emery Method used by countless other beach profiling projects. Beach profiling is a survey technique which measures the contour of a beach. By tracking the contour of the beach over time, the patterns of change in the beach contour can be revealed, indicating rates and locations of erosion or accretion. Groups of volunteers will take a public ferry out to the Boston Harbor Islands where they will conduct the data collection. Measuring the profile of a beach at low tide is preferable because that exposes as much of the beach as possible, allowing volunteers to create the most complete beach profile they can without getting wet. The data collection itself is quite simple, requiring only two vertical stakes, a rope or tape measure, and a view of the horizon. There are several feasibility concerns for this recommendation: tides, the ferry, and the profiling locations. The organizers of this program would have to schedule beach visits based on ferry availability, tide cycles, and volunteer schedules. Additionally, this project would require the chartering of a private boat in the winter when the ferry no longer runs and storms are more frequent. When selecting profiling areas, organizers would have to identify areas that aren’t too steep to be profiled, aren’t too rocky, and have stable locations to start profiling from each time to ensure the data from different dates can be compared.



The National Parks of Boston makes education a priority in their parks, as well as preservation of cultural, historical, and natural resources. Community science can integrate these priorities as well as providing scientifically valid information which can help inform park management’s efforts to protect the islands. Our project goal was to recommend community science programs focused on monitoring coastal change in the Boston Harbor Islands.

We proposed three programs which share a common goal to reveal coastal change effects in BHI that can allow for action and engage park participants. Each of these recommendations meet BOHA’s three main goals relating to community science (scientific validity, relevance to park management, and providing an educational/enjoyable experience for participants) as well as meeting several of the Key Design Aspects of Community Science. Each recommended program offers additional opportunities to integrate in each program to elevate the overall value for both BOHA and program participants. Our team believes that integration of these programs will have a lasting positive impact on the Boston Harbor Islands and those who enjoy them.



Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (2020). Massachusetts Shoreline Change Project.

Evans, C., Abrams, E., Reitsma, R., Roux, K., Salmonsen, L., & Marra, P. P. (2005). The Neighborhood Nestwatch Program: Participant Outcomes of a Citizen-Science Ecological Research Project. Conservation Biology, 19(3), 589-594.

National Park Service. (2006). Management Policies 2006.

National Park Service. (2019a, February 15). Bird monitoring.

National Park Service. (2019c, October 19). Climate change vulnerability and adaptation – Climate Change).

National Park Service. (2019e, October 25). Stewardship Saturdays – Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Velde, T. V., Milton, D. A., Lawson, T., Wilcox, C., Lansdell, M., Davis, G., Perkins, G., Hardesty, B. D. (2017). Comparison of marine debris data collected by researchers and citizen scientists: Is citizen science data worth the effort? Biological Conservation, 208, 127-138.