As the need for environmental conservation around the world grows every day, so does our need for information and data. Every issue is different and solving each one requires detailed information about the problem and its surroundings. Unfortunately, scientists can’t be everywhere at once.
There just isn’t enough funding or trained professionals. Science needs more eyes and hands in order to collect all the data we need. This is where citizen science can step in to fill the gap.
Citizen science projects combine the scientific expertise of experienced researchers with the numbers and enthusiasm of everyday environmental volunteers and enthusiasts. Together, these two groups are called citizen scientists and they collect data that can be used to identify problems and build solutions.
What Is Citizen Science?
SciStarter, one of the world’s largest hubs for citizen science projects, defines citizen science as, “a collaboration between scientists and those of us who are just curious or concerned and motivated to make a difference.” Anyone from any background can participate in a citizen science project. Volunteers are all taught the same protocols so that their data will be consistent, reliable, and trustworthy. Popular citizen science projects that you can do from home include the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, the global City Nature Challenge competition, and any project listed on Zooniverse.org.
How You Can Get Involved
But what if you want to get more involved in citizen science? What if you want to perform novel, hands-on research while traveling in new and exciting parts of the world? The three organizers listed below offer citizen scientists the chance to produce meaningful data while traveling abroad, with no prior experience necessary! Most of the trips described below are 1-2 weeks long, but other programs may vary in length. You can register online for an expedition at any of the websites linked below.
Probably the most well-known citizen science expedition group, Earthwatch offers about 40 different programs that focus on different environmental issues, ranging from climate change to marine health to wildlife and ecosystem conservation. Each program begins with training in important skills and practices before teams start to conduct surveys and record observations. Earthwatch also offers programs specifically for teens ages 15-17. Registration for programs in both 2021 and 2022 are now open.
Originally a wildlife conservation non-profit, Biosphere Expeditions brings together small teams of citizen scientists from around the world to remote locations in order to collect data on endangered species. These teams also work with nearby NGOs, rangers, and communities in order to build up local capacity and motivation to protect at-risk wildlife. Due to COVID-19, Biosphere Expeditions have deferred all programs until 2022.
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic
For a very different form of citizen science abroad, check out Lindblad Expedition’s BioBlitz in the Southern Ocean. As part of some National Geographic Explorer trips, guests will have the opportunity to participate in a BioBltz, aka, a short period of time in which guests will race to take pictures and identify as many local species as they can. Once identified, pictures are then uploaded to the app iNaturalist where they can be used by researchers anywhere in the world.
Since areas like South Georgia, the Falkland Islands, and Antarctica are so remote, every observation in one of these locations becomes an incredibly valuable piece of data in determining the health of the local ecosystem.
Prior to the pandemic, future expeditions planned to study humpback whales in Alaska, sharks in the South Pacific, and microplastics in the Antarctic Peninsula.
Next time you start thinking about traveling or taking a vacation, consider making your trip a citizen science expedition. Environmental volunteers who are passionate about conservation are always needed.
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