- Globally, coral reef monitoring programmes conducted by volunteer-based organizations or local communities have the potential to collect large quantities of marine data at low cost. However, many scientists remain sceptical about the ability of these programmes to detect changes in marine systems when compared with professional techniques. A limited number of studies have assessed the efficacy and validity of volunteer-based monitoring, and even fewer have assessed community-based methods. This study in Cambodia investigated the ability of surveyors of different levels of experience to conduct underwater surveys using a simple coral reef methodology. Surveyors were assigned to four experience categories and conducted a series of six 20 × 5 m belt transects using five benthic indicator species. Results show decreased variation in marine community assessments with increasing experience, indicating that experience, rather than cultural background, influences survey ability. This suggests that locally based programmes can fill gaps in knowledge with suitable ongoing training and assessment.
Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing
Plastic marine debris is a global problem, but due to its widespread and patchy distribution, gathering sufficient samples for scientific research is challenging with limited ship time and human resources. Taking advantage of public interest in the impact of plastic on the marine environment, successful Citizen Science (CS) programs incorporate members of the public to provide repeated sampling for time series as well as synoptic collections over wide geographic regions. A key challenge with any CS program is to ensure standardized methods and quality control so that the samples and data can legitimately be compared and used in peer-reviewed research. This article describes several successful examples and outlines suggestions for projects cooperating with citizen scientists to provide reliable samples and accurate data, with benefits to science, citizen scientists, and society in general.
Juveniles of blue shark Prionace glauca caught in pelagic longlines targeting tuna and swordfish in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea were found entangled with plastic straps around their gill region. The plastic debris were identified as strapping bands and caused several degrees of injuries on the dorsal musculature and pectoral fins. They were also obstructing the gill slits probably causing breathing issues. These records were uploaded in the web site seawatchers.org, and highlight the potential of citizen science in revealing the occurrence of such problems which could help to measure the effects of plastic debris on marine life.
Citizen science—the involvement of volunteers in data collection, analysis and interpretation—simultaneously supports research and public engagement with science, and its profile is rapidly rising. Citizen science represents a diverse range of approaches, but until now this diversity has not been quantitatively explored. We conducted a systematic internet search and discovered 509 environmental and ecological citizen science projects. We scored each project for 32 attributes based on publicly obtainable information and used multiple factor analysis to summarise this variation to assess citizen science approaches. We found that projects varied according to their methodological approach from ‘mass participation’ (e.g. easy participation by anyone anywhere) to ‘systematic monitoring’ (e.g. trained volunteers repeatedly sampling at specific locations). They also varied in complexity from approaches that are ‘simple’ to those that are ‘elaborate’ (e.g. provide lots of support to gather rich, detailed datasets). There was a separate cluster of entirely computer-based projects but, in general, we found that the range of citizen science projects in ecology and the environment showed continuous variation and cannot be neatly categorised into distinct types of activity. While the diversity of projects begun in each time period (pre 1990, 1990–99, 2000–09 and 2010–13) has not increased, we found that projects tended to have become increasingly different from each other as time progressed (possibly due to changing opportunities, including technological innovation). Most projects were still active so consequently we found that the overall diversity of active projects (available for participation) increased as time progressed. Overall, understanding the landscape of citizen science in ecology and the environment (and its change over time) is valuable because it informs the comparative evaluation of the ‘success’ of different citizen science approaches. Comparative evaluation provides an evidence-base to inform the future development of citizen science activities.
Citizen science is often assumed to increase public science engagement; however, little is known about who is likely to volunteer and the implications for greater societal impact. This study segments 1,145 potential volunteers into six groups according to their current engagement in science (EiS). Results show groups with high levels of EiS are significantly more interested in volunteering and more likely to participate in various research roles than those with lower EiS scores. While citizen science benefits some in science and society, its use as a strategy to bring about positive shifts in public science engagement needs to be reconsidered.
Coral reefs provide important ecological services such as biodiversity, climate regulation, and cultural benefits through recreation and tourism. However, many of the world's reefs are declining, with Caribbean reefs suffering a significant decline in living corals over the past half century. This situation emphasizes the need to assess and monitor reef conditions using a variety of methods. In this study, a new method for assessing reef conditions to inform management using participatory mapping by coral reef “experts” in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is described. Occupational SCUBA divers were recruited (n=87) to map coral reef conditions, uses, and threats (stressors) using an internet-based mapping website. The data reveal an uneven geographic distribution of reef conditions in the USVI with the most frequently mapped perceived healthy reef characteristics being: large amount of physical reef structure (n=872 markers); endangered or threatened species present (n=721); and large amount of live coral cover (n=615). The greatest perceived threats were: invasive species (n=606); water pollution (n=234); and unsustainable fishing (n=200). Areas of important reef characteristics, perceived threats to reefs, and perceived recovery potential were plotted to identify areas requiring critical management attention. The authors found that perceptions of healthy reef conditions outnumbered perceptions of reef threats for nine of the ten most familiar coral reefs; the most frequent activity type within the coral reefs was tourism diving; and for the most familiar coral reefs, the divers perceived a high recovery potential. Given the novelty of participatory mapping methods to assess coral reefs, the strengths and weaknesses of the method is evaluated. The authors further propose a management typology for categorizing reef areas to inform their future management. In the absence of primary data, or, as a supplement to underwater surveys and remotely-sensed data on reef condition, participatory mapping can provide a cost-effective means for assessing coral reef conditions while identifying place-specific reef locations requiring management attention.
Subtropical reefs provide an important habitat for flora and fauna, and proper monitoring is required for conservation. Monitoring these exposed and submerged reefs is challenging and available resources are limited. Citizen science is increasing in momentum, as an applied research tool and in the variety of monitoring approaches adopted. This paper aims to demonstrate an ecological assessment and mapping approach that incorporates both top-down (volunteer marine scientists) and bottom-up (divers/community) engagement aspects of citizen science, applied at a subtropical reef at Point Lookout, Southeast Queensland, Australia. Marine scientists trained fifty citizen scientists in survey techniques that included mapping of habitat features, recording of substrate, fish and invertebrate composition, and quantifying impacts (e.g., occurrence of substrate damage, presence of litter). In 2014 these volunteers conducted four seasonal surveys along semi-permanent transects, at five sites, across three reefs. The project presented is a model on how citizen science can be conducted in a marine environment through collaboration of volunteer researchers, non-researchers and local marine authorities. Significant differences in coral and algal cover were observed among the three sites, while fluctuations in algal cover were also observed seasonally. Differences in fish assemblages were apparent among sites and seasons, with subtropical fish groups observed more commonly in colder seasons. The least physical damage occurred in the most exposed sites (Flat Rock) within the highly protected marine park zones. The broad range of data collected through this top-down/bottom-up approach to citizen science exemplifies the projects’ value and application for identifying ecosystem trends or patterns. The results of the project support natural resource and marine park management, providing a valuable contribution to existing scientific knowledge and the conservation of local reefs.
Understanding the drivers and barriers to participation in citizen science initiatives for conservation is important if long-term involvement from volunteers is expected. This study investigates the motivations of individuals from five marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Dutch Caribbean to (not) participate in different initiatives around lionfish. Following an interpretive approach, semi-structured interviews with seventy-eight informants were conducted and analyzed using thematic network analysis. Approximately 60% (n = 48) of informants indicated that they had participated in citizen science initiatives at the outset of the invasion. From this group, almost half said that they still participated in some type of data collection, but only a few did so within a citizen science context. Many informants were initially motivated to participate in lionfish detection and response initiatives due to concern for the environment. Personal meanings attached to both the data collection experiences and to the data influenced informants’ motivations to sustain or cease data collection and/or sharing. In time, the view of lionfish as a threat changed for many informants as this species’ recreational and/or commercial value increased. Enabling and constraining factors for data collection and sharing were identified at the personal, interpersonal, organizational and technical levels. Our findings have implications for the design of future citizen science initiatives focused on invasive species.
Social studies in citizen science typically focus on existing project participants. We present results from an online survey of 1145 marine users to identify broader public interest in marine citizen science. Although we found considerable community interest, the most enthusiastic tended to have a higher education in science, were under 45 years old, primarily enjoyed SCUBA diving, and had contributed to scientific research in the past. The type of research organization involved in a project played a role in people's willingness to share information. The discourse of public participation in scientific research encourages public involvement in all aspects of the scientific process; however, we found that the respondents were primarily interested in data-collection opportunities. Feedback and past experiences in research were important considerations for gaining and retaining the volunteers. Our results indicate considerable potential for growth in volunteer recruitment, which can contribute constructively to scientific and public knowledge of the marine environment.
Public participation in science is burgeoning, yet little is known about factors that influence potential volunteers. We present results from a national survey of 1,145 marine users to uncover the drivers and barriers to a sightings-based, digital marine citizen science project. Knowledge of marine species is the most significant barrier and driver for participation. Many marine users perceive that they have insufficient knowledge of marine species to contribute to the project, yet they expect to learn more about marine species if they were to participate. Contributing to scientific knowledge is also a strong driver for many marine users to participate.