sea star monitoring program

The Discovery Islands Sea Star Monitoring Program

Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI) has become the Hakai Institute‘s first partner in a new citizen science sea star monitoring program.

As Helen Hall, Executive Director of FOCI explained, “”We just launched a really exciting joint project with the Hakai Institute. They are initiating a project to monitor the health of Sea Stars in the Discovery Islands and we can contribute from Cortes Island.”

 Kelly Fretwell – photo by Koby Michaels, Hakai Institute

“Hakai is using a program called iNaturalist which allows you to go out, take a picture of a sea star with your iPhone and upload it to the web. It is really easy. If you have downloaded the app, you can upload pictures while you are standing there. Anyone can take part and we welcome all sightings of sea stars, anytime people are out and about”

FOCI is also looking for volunteers to do monthly beach walks.

“ Once we have volunteers, we will be asking them to walk selected beaches at low tide each month, so that we can also record Sea Stars in a more methodical manner. That’s looking at both healthy sea stars and any sea stars that have the wasting disease,” said Hall..

Sea Star Wasting Disease by Alyssa Gehman, Hakai Institute

The Hakai Institute

Hakai is an outgrowth of the Tula Foundation, which purchased the Hakai Beach on Calvert Island in the Great Bear Rainforest during 2009. This became their first ecological observatory. A second observatory was set up on Quadra Island in 2014. The following year, the Hakai Institute’s corporate office opened in Campbell River. The Hakai magazine is based in Victoria and there is a Hakai node for Fisheries and Oceans at UBC.

According to Hakai communications specialist  Kelly Fretwell, researchers on Quadra and Calvert Islands have been studying the Sea Star Wasting disease for years, but iNaturalist opened up the possibility of enlisting citizen scientists.

“It seemed like a perfect focal point to bridge community science in the Discovery Islands and Hakai’s work  in sea star wasting and sea star monitoring … This is our pilot year in combining those two focuses. As a result we wanted to reach out and see what community groups would be interested,” said Fretwell.

Sea Star Wasting Disease by Angeleen Olsen, hakai Institute

Reaching out to community groups

 Lannie Keller, from  the Discovery Islands Ecosystem Mapping Project, introduced Fretwell to Sabina Leader-Mense. FOCI’s Marine Stewardship Coordinator. 

“She already partners with Hakai on other projects, so it was a perfect link up. Sabina was super excited about this project. Then, early last Fall I did a short intro to iNaturalist with some folks from FOCI and the Wild Cortes partnership.  We were talking about some ideas that might be of interest and they had some great ideas about how to apply iNaturalist to their work,” said Fretwell. 

She has been communicating with groups like the Quadra Island Outdoors Club, BC Marine Trails Group, Maple Leaf Adventures and the Comox Valley Yacht Club, but FOCI is currently Hakai’s principal partner. 

Fretwell hopes to set up some specific sea star monitoring dates on Cortes Island this summer. 

“The nice thing about this project is that the data is being fed back to the Hakai Institute who will be able to analyze the results, so we can let people know what is happening to Sea Stars in our region,” said Hall.

Sea Star Wasting Disease by Carolyn Prentice, Hakai Institute

Contact Info:

Cortes Islanders who want to volunteer for this program can email FOCI at or phone 250-935-0087

People wanting to contact Kelly Fretwell, or the Hakai Insitute, about this program can email

Top photo credit: Sea Star Wasting Disease by Faye Manning, Hakai Institute

Sign-up for emails:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency:

One thought on “The Discovery Islands Sea Star Monitoring Program”

Comments are closed.