What is Community Science?

Community science. Citizen science. Participatory science. Volunteer monitoring. What does it all mean? There are many different titles and definitions, but generally they all involve members of the public engaging in some form of data collection for scientific purposes. This can either be with the collaboration or guidance from professional scientists or independently. The data collected by these dedicated individuals can inform professional scientists on many different research areas, such as water quality, air quality, or wildlife populations.

Benefits of Community Science

Using these data allows the professional scientists to expand their reach. It also allows individuals to engage with their environment on a more personal level. Whether that’s interpreting the data, understanding how their actions affect the environmental quality, or just getting out in nature for a bit, there is something in it for everyone.

History of Community Science

Community science has been around for many years. One of the oldest known projects is Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, which started on December 25, 1900! Tens of thousands of people in North America participate every year. While very impressive, you don’t need a large group to engage in community science. In fact, you could do it by yourself or with a small group.

Below are some helpful resources to get involved with a branch of the environment that you are most interested in!

How do I get involved?

Low-cost Sensors
NJDEP monitors air pollutants throughout New Jersey to protect public health and the environment. Communities can now also monitor their own air quality, using portable and affordable instruments. These “low-cost sensors” range in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Learn more at https://www.nj.gov/dep/airmon/community-science.html

Air Sampler Loan Program
Students can use air samplers borrowed from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to study the characteristics, sources and impacts of particulate air pollution (also known as soot) in their community, specifically black carbon pollution. They can collect and analyze data, and suggest actions that can be taken to reduce or prevent particulate pollution impacts. Learn more at https://www.nj.gov/dep/seeds/airqed/SAMP/

US EPA Air Projects

MyCoast App
The MyCoast: New Jersey portal is used to collect and analyze photos of coastal events and places. Photos are linked to data about weather and tides. This is then used to create reports that help government agencies, business owners, and residents to understand coastal changes and make informed decisions.

If you care about your local waterbody and you’re interested in science, community water monitoring might be the activity you’re looking for. There are many ways you can take part in making your local waterbodies healthier for people and for the animals that live in the water, too. You might like to wade into a stream to collect macroinvertebrates (the organisms that live on the stream bottom) or visit your lake to make observations about how your lake “looks”. You can view the list below of water monitoring projects organized by county.

Statewide Projects:

  • Monitoring lakes for “Harmful Algal Blooms.” An overabundance of cyanobacteria can make the water unsafe for people and pets. If you want to help keep an eye out for HABs, visit NJDEP-CyanoHAB Reporting for more information.
  • Contact the New Jersey Watershed Watch Network if you want to start a new community-based or volunteer water monitoring program, if you need technical help with an existing program, or if you want to help monitor for road salt in streams. NJDEP provides funding for this network to support volunteer groups. The goal is to help groups reach their goals for collecting and using water data.
  • For more information, please visit the NJDEP Community Water Monitoring page.

AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors Program

For the past 22 years, the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors Program has played an important role in raising awareness of how human activities can affect water quality, especially in one of the most populated states in the nation. Each year, a new group of 20 Watershed Ambassadors engages with community members, channeling awareness into action.

AmeriCorps members serve with local partners within New Jersey’s 20 watershed management areas (WMAs). Besides the 20 full time Watershed Ambassadors, 3 part-time Source Water Protection Ambassadors serve from locations in Northern, Central, and Southern NJ. The Source Water Protection Ambassadors serve from September – May, conducting education and stewardship projects that relate to ground water and sources of drinking water.

For more information and ways to get involved with the AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors, please visit their website and their Facebook page.

EarthEcho Water Challenge

The EarthEcho Water Challenge (formerly World Water Monitoring Challenge) is an international program that runs annually from March 22 (the United Nations World Water Day) through December and equips anyone to protect the water resources we depend on every day. The EarthEcho Water Challenge builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local waterbodies.

NJ Watershed Associations by County

Atlantic County

Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association

Bergen County

Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network (SWAN)

Flat Rock Brook Nature Center

Hackensack Riverkeeper, Inc.

Burlington County

Crafts Creek & Spring Hill Brook Watershed Association

Pinelands Preservation Alliance

Rancocas Conservancy

Camden County

Center for Aquatic Sciences

Delaware Riverkeeper Network (Pennsylvania)

Newton Creek Watershed Association

Cumberland County

American Littoral Society- Bayshore Office

Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River

Gloucester County

South Jersey Land & Water Trust

Hunterdon County

Musconetcong Watershed Association

Raritan Headwaters Association

SPLASH Floating Classroom

Sourland Conservancy

The Watershed Institute

Mercer County

The Watershed Institute

Urban Promise Trenton

Middlesex County

Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership

Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

NY/NJ Riverkeeper

The Watershed Institute

Woodbridge River Watch

Monmouth County

American Littoral Society- Sandy Hook

Bayshore Regional Watershed Council

Clean Ocean Action

Coastal Lakes Observation Network (CLONet), Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University

Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

NY/NJ Riverkeeper

Shark River Cleanup Coalition, Inc.

The Watershed Institute

Morris County

Great Swamp Watershed Association

Passaic River Coalition

Rockaway River Watershed Cabinet

The Nature Conservancy- NJ Field Office

Whippany River Watershed Action Committee

Ocean County

Barnegat Bay Partnership

Pinelands Preservation Alliance

Save Barnegat Bay

Somerset County

Raritan Headwaters Association

The Watershed Institute

Sussex County

Swartswood Lake and Watershed Association

Wallkill River Watershed Management Group

Union County

Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

Rahway River Watershed Association

Warren County

Mountain Lake Community Association & Watershed Advisory Group

Musconetcong Watershed Association

NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey

  • Get involved with conducting research on a variety of different species, help implement conservation plans, and assist with restoring habitat.

NJ Volunteer Wildlife Conservation Corps

  • The NJ Volunteer Wildlife Conservation Corps are involved in projects such as waterfowl banding, shore bird nest surveys, fishing instruction, endangered species monitoring, permit sales, data entry and office assistance.

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count

  • Join tens of thousands across the Americas every year to engage in the Christmas bird count.

Got a pool? Help the NJ Forest Service monitor for invasive insects, such as the Asian Longhorned Beetle

Help the NJ Forest Service find and track Beech Leaf Disease

Help the NJ Forest Service monitor for Oak Wilt

Help the NJ Forest Service by conducting visual monitoring for the Elm Zigzag Sawfly

US EPA Participatory Science

  • Federal resources on participatory science

US EPA Quality Assurance Handbook and Guidance Documents for Participatory Science Projects

  • Federal guidance to assist organizations with starting or growing their own participatory science projects


  • Find volunteer opportunities that match topics you’re curious or concerned about.


  • Projects supported by federal agencies

New Jersey Department of Education

  • Resources for teaching climate science and community science projects

Leave No Trace

  • Citizen Science Toolkit