The Passion For Marine Citizen Science Has Taken Hold Of Me

Ocean Passion Series


Welcome to our "Ocean Passion Series" where we are interviewing ordinary people doing extraordinary actions for the ocean. We believe learning from others can help our own life become more engaged and inspired. This week our guest is Micheal Bear from the USA! 


Hello Mike! Thank you for joining us today so let's get started with the interview. Can you tell us about yourself and where you are in the world? 

 Mike Bear  I am Mike Bear an avid scientific diver and Citizen Science Project Director with Ocean Sanctuaries, a San Diego-based oceans non profit. I live and work in San Diego.



We see your the Project Director with Ocean Sanctuaries. Please tell us what your mission is and do you have any campaigns on the go?


Ocean Sanctuaries is a 501 c3 non-profit which promotes and creates marine citizen science projects which allow the general public to gather data and engage in the scientific process, to contribute  to a better understanding of the oceans and our planet.


Ocean Sanctuaries has several marine citizen science projects which are available to divers and, soon, to non-divers alike.


- The Ocean Sanctuaries 2015 Yukon Marine Life Survey is an opportunity for divers to contribute photos documenting the marine life on the Yukon. This is a long-term study designed as a follow-up to the one done in 2004 by San Diego Oceans Foundations.  The 366 ft. long Canadian warship Yukon was purchased, cleaned and sunk by the City of San Diego and the San Diego Oceans Foundation in July of 2000 to serve as a pioneering artificial reef  which would attract both tourists and marine life–and, in that regard, it has been spectacularly successful.


Mike Bear
Fig. 1: White Plumed Anemone Growing on the Yukon
Photo credit: Michael Bear


Ocean Drop bracelet



 For shark lovers, we have two projects:


1. Such as the Sevengill Shark Sightings web page which I founded in 2010 to monitor and track Sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) in the San Diego area, using a pair of pattern recognition algorithms to analyze the freckling patterns on the dorsal sides of Sevengill sharks. This involves using photographs taken by local divers who have been trained to recognize this species and obtain high definition photographs from various angles.



2. Finally, we have the Sharks of California project, for documenting any non-Sevengill shark species:

Ocean Sanctuaries and BSCS are collaborating to feature their latest citizen science tool, Field scope, to track the Sharks of California.You can log sightings and photos of Leopard sharks, Horn sharks, Angel sharks, Tope sharks as well as pelagic species such as Blue, Mako, Great White and Thresher.

Register here:


Coming in 2018, in conjunction with, Ocean Sanctuaries  will be offering a Marine Citizen Sciences Certificate to the general public.

It would consist of two parts:

Part I:

The student would complete a basic online marine life and fish identification course with REEF, which has been available for several years now on website. Residents of California would take the California fish ID and marine life invertebrates course and residents of the Pacific Northwest, Washington and Vancouver areas, could take the corresponding courses for the Pacific Northwest.


Upon satisfactory completion of this portion of the course, as determined by REEF, they would then proceed to:

Part II:

Basic Scientific Concepts, Protocols and Tools for the Citizen Scientist, such as taking notes and scientific measurements in the field, using nautical maps and GPS and basic species taxonomy, to be designed and offered by Ocean Sanctuaries.

Once both Part I and Part II have been satisfactorily completed, then a basic Marine Citizen Scientist certificate would be issued.  So far, we have no plans to charge for either course.

Note: This would *not* be a scuba certification program and any training involved with scuba equipment would have to be obtained separately.


Shark Lovers


Mike that is all very impressive! Love that your are building a Citizen Science Course at no charge and engaging people to monitor the development of the artificial reef! What a way to give people something to do that brings data to protect what you and they love much. Outstanding to say the least. So tell us how long have you known your passion for the ocean and can you remember that day or situation that brought it to the surface and led you to Shark Conservation?


Well, I was first certified for diving at the age of 13 in Thailand and dove a little bit in college, but oddly, let my passion lie fallow for a few years. Then, rather suddenly, in my 40s, my interest was renewed in 2000, when I heard about a project between the city of San Diego and the San Diego Oceans Foundation to clean and sink a 366 ft. Long Canadian warship called the 'Yukon' off the coast of San Diego to act as an artificial reef to attract marine life I became involved in these early efforts and was one of the first science divers to do marine life surveys on the wreck. Ocean Sanctuaries is now conducting the first follow-up study since then, using a citizen science data gathering tool called iNaturalist [see: for more information].


Since then, the passion for marine citizen science has taken hold and, I, along with a friend of mine, Barbara Lloyd, we co-founded an ocean non-profit dedicated to educating the public about the topic and providing hands-on experience for divers who want to collect data for various marine citizen science projects. For more information on these project, please see:



Brilliant idea! That sinking must have been just incredible to watch. 366ft is one massive reef and from your beautiful photos after 17yrs this reef is evolving quite well. Let's keep moving on your journey and ask you how has your passion for the ocean changed your thinking and your life?


Well, over the years, we have seen how ocean lovers and divers can transform their passion for the ocean into practical, hands-on experience in gathering data for scientists and expand their knowledge of citizen science, under the mentorship of scientists, which we call Principal Investigators, who supervise the work. Having gone through various marine citizen science training  programs ourselves, we have learned how to create curricula for the general public which is both exciting and instructive. This has become even more critical now that the planet is undergoing dramatic climatic and meteorological changes—this data is needed for a better understand of how these changes affect all of us—and, the ocean. It has also made me aware of the damage things like plastic and trash are doing to the planet and to try and modify my consumer habits accordingly.



The work you and your team of Principal Investigators are doing is most definitely crucial in this time of day. With a drastic change in ocean chemistry over the past few decades we are seeing massive changes happening. Then add that plastic and garbage you speak about shows we need some massive educational awareness to our local communities. So creating your life journey with the ocean in parallel did it help build a strong character and skills within you? Can you describe?


I've learned to never lose my sense of awe with nature and to have respect for it as well. To try and remember that when I'm in the ocean, I am a guest there—and to behave accordingly, with respect and love for the marine life I encounter.  I try to remember that this is their ocean—not mine—and to leave as light a 'footprint' there as I can. Hopefully, no 'footprint' at all—just bubbles!



Mike Bear

Fig 3: A moral eel seen off Laguna Beach
Photo credit: Michael Bear


Exactly "Just Bubbles"! Love that mindset of being a guest. The ocean really is another world of life that cannot communicate with us verbally but has its way of showing us the impact we have on it through our choices. Being in their world is such an honor and respect is needed. Tell us what ocean organization is your favorite and why? 


Well, since I'm co-founder of Ocean Sanctuaries, I'd have to say it's my favorite ocean non-profit for reasons I've listed above, because I love marine citizen science. But, there are many, many great ocean non-profits out there who do great work—too numerous to name, and they deserve recognition as well.


Ocean Tees


We totally agree that Ocean Sanctuaries has an incredibly unique way of bringing people together for the ocean as documenting citizen scientists. Pretty darn cool hobby for most I am sure. With all these amazing things you have going on what would be your favorite thing about the ocean?


Well, of course, diving, because it puts me in direct contact with the ocean and its wonderful denizens. I am certainly no poet, but I have modified a well-known poem about flying to describe the experience of diving, that may help describe what the experience is like for non-divers, it's a called


'Into the Deep':

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
and danced the depths on laughter-silvered wings; downward I've dropped, and joined the tumbling mirth of sunlit kelp...and golden fish, and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of....wheeled and soared and swung.....deep in the dark blue silence.

Hov'ring there........

I've chased the seaward currents along, and flung
myself through footless halls of ocean green.

Down, down, down...the long, delirious burning depths, I've descended with easy grace......

And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod the high untrespassed sanctity of the Deep...

...put out my hand, and...... touched the face of the abyss."

--Original poem credit  goes to the late, great John MacGee, author of the original aviation poem 'High Flight'


San Diego Sea Kelp

Fig. 5: A diver in a San Diego kelp forest
Photo credit: Michael Bear


Denizen of the Deep:

Black Sea Nettle (Chrysaora achlyos)

We encountered these giant sea jellies off the coast of San Diego in large 'swarms' in 2012.  Very little is known about them—where they come from—or where they go......




Wow! They are impressive Mike. We love that they are completely unknown because it shows us how impressive the ocean world truly is and how much we still need to learn. The problem we have is we are taking, taking, taking, and not replenishing on a grand scale. That is why we love what you're doing. This 366ft Yukon Warship artificial reef shows us that you can give back and how fast life in the ocean will build its ecosystem. Keep up the amazing work and hope to see you Certify thousands of Citizen Scientists to aid in the protection of the ocean!


Check back next week on the Ocean Passion Series to find out who our next ocean passionate guest will be and you will never be disappointed! Check out our past guests here >>Ocean Passion Series<<

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