Phytoplankton Monitoring Network

PMN > Volunteering > PMN - What Is Involved?

PMN - What Is Involved?

The NOAA Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) is looking for new volunteers all across the coastal U.S.

Are you interested in sampling local waters twice a month and identifying the phytoplankton that are found? It’s okay if the last time you used a microscope was back in High School! No Science Experience Required!

  • Anyone can participate! Parks, 4-H clubs, Homeschoolers, Master Naturalists, Individuals, etc...
  • PMN provides volunteers with ALL the necessary equipment, except for the light microscope and rope for net.
  • Volunteers must have access to a basic light microscope with total magnification up to 200x, preferably 400x. The PMN may be able to help you locate a microscope to use in your community.
  • Volunteers commit to sampling their site at least once every two weeks for at least one year.
  • Sampling sites can be anywhere, as long as there is easy, safe, and legal access to the site.
  • Sampling sites must have a salinity of 10-15 ppt or greater throughout most of the year. (Not sure of the salinity, the PMN can loan you a refractometer to determine the salinity.)
  • Volunteers must have computer access for training purposes and to enter data into the PMN online database.

What are the benefits of becoming a PMN volunteer?

PMN volunteers are an asset to the community through the knowledge gained and shared. Volunteers are the primary investigators for the local waters and community public health. The program works well as a community group initiative or can be incorporated into the classroom. Benefits include scientific sampling equipment given to participants to fulfill volunteer responsibilities. In addition to educational and community awareness benefits, volunteers are involved with research and have opportunities to collaborate with and tour NOAA labs and research vessels.

What happens when I volunteer with PMN?

Volunteers are given an instructional training course (either in-person or online) by one or more PMN staff members, depending on group size and staff availability. The PMN staff member(s) gives a presentation that explains the program, introduces phytoplankton and explains their ecological importance. Volunteers view a plankton sample in order to develop and practice identification skills. After the initial training, all new volunteers then practice their ID on their own, before scheduling and attending the second training session which works specifically on phytoplankton ID.

How much time is required to become an active PMN volunteer?

Initial training takes the most time and varies by volunteer/volunteer group, typically lasting between 2 – 3 hours. The second training session is shorter and typically lasts 1 – 1 ½ hours. Once training is complete, each sample collection takes approximately 5-10 minutes followed by sample identification that can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to identify. As volunteers become more comfortable with identification, the time needed to properly identify the sample decreases. Additional time factors include travel time to the sampling site and the number of sites monitored.

Once the training sessions are completed, are volunteers left to their own?

Volunteers are never left on their own. Volunteers make weekly/biweekly plankton tows and identify the samples independently after the initial training(s). At least once a year, volunteers participate in an on-line WebEx practice ID session with PMN staff in Charleston. The PMN regional coordinator is always available to work with volunteers in any way possible and typically travels to each state once a year for site visits and refresher trainings.

How does a volunteer get the most out of volunteering for PMN?

A great initial step is to form a phytoplankton monitoring team and establish a consistent sampling schedule. Perhaps have the team leader or project leader get the sample the same day every week and pick a convenient time and location to analyze the sample.

Additional Information or Questions:

Steve Morton: (843)762-8857 or