From 1994–2007 Ceredigion County Council and a network of shore-based, volunteer observers monitored levels of boat traffic and the occurrence of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus at seven sites on the coast of Cardigan Bay, Wales. We report high rates of site use and site occupancy by this species during the summer: at Mwnt for example, dolphins were recorded in >80% of 2 hours' observation periods; and at New Quay Harbour dolphins were present in >30% of all 15-minute intervals. At Mwnt and Aberporth there was a significant annual trend for increasing sighting rates; at Ynys Lochtyn a positive trend was only marginally non-significant; at New Quay Bird's Rock the trend was ambiguous but appeared stable over the seven most recent years. Although trends in site use may not reflect population trends in the wider region, these data were consistent with recent abundance estimates that indicate that the number of bottlenose dolphins using Cardigan Bay is stable or slightly increasing. Average group size at our study sites was small (<3 animals), which contrasts with observations of larger schools of the same population elsewhere in their range. The predominant behaviour in coastal Cardigan Bay is demersal foraging, often by solitary animals in shallow near-shore habitats. There was evidence that boat traffic suppressed site use by dolphins at New Quay Harbour, the busiest monitoring site: sighting rates fell when high numbers of boats were present and sighting rates were higher in 2007 than in previous years, when boat use was reduced due to poor weather during the main tourist season. This study demonstrates that networks of volunteer observers can provide a cost-effective, non-invasive means of gathering data on marine mammals for the purposes of coastal zone management.