Social media like blogs, micro-blogs or social networks are increasingly being investigated and employed to detect and predict trends for not only social and physical phenomena, but also to capture environmental information. Here we argue that opportunistic biodiversity observations published through Twitter represent one promising and until now unexplored example of such data mining. As we elaborate, it can contribute to real-time information to traditional ecological monitoring programmes including those sourced via citizen science activities. Using Twitter data collected for a generic assessment of social media data in ecological monitoring we investigated a sample of what we denote biodiversity observations with species determination requests (N = 191). These entail images posted as messages on the micro-blog service Twitter. As we show, these frequently trigger conversations leading to taxonomic determinations of those observations. All analysed Tweets were posted with species determination requests, which generated replies for 64% of Tweets, 86% of those contained at least one suggested determination, of which 76% were assessed as correct. All posted observations included or linked to images with the overall image quality categorised as satisfactory or better for 81% of the sample and leading to taxonomic determinations at the species level in 71% of provided determinations. We claim that the original message authors and conversation participants can be viewed as implicit or embryonic citizen science communities which have to offer valuable contributions both as an opportunistic data source in ecological monitoring as well as potential active contributors to citizen science programmes.
Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing
Interviews were conducted with 110 marine users to elicit their salient beliefs about recording marine species in a citizen science project. The results showed that many interviewees believe participation would increase knowledge (either scientific, the community’s, or their own). While almost half of the interviewees saw no negative outcomes, a small number expressed concerns about targeting of marine species by others, or restrictions on public access to marine sites. Most of the people surveyed (n = 106) emphasised the importance of well-designed technological interfaces to assist their data collection, without which they would be unlikely to engage in the project.
Coral reefs hosts nearly 25% of all marine species and provide food sources for half a billion people worldwide while only a very small percentage have been surveyed. Advances in technology and processing along with affordable underwater cameras and Internet availability gives us the possibility to provide tools and softwares to survey entire coral reefs. Holistic ecological analyses of corals require not only the community view (10s to 100s of meters), but also the single colony analysis as well as corallite identification. As corals are three-dimensional, classical approaches to determine percent cover and structural complexity across spatial scales are inefficient, time-consuming and limited to experts. Here we propose an end-to-end approach to estimate these parameters using low-cost equipment (GoPro, Canon) and freeware (123D Catch, Meshmixer and Netfabb), allowing every community to participate in surveys and monitoring of their coral ecosystem. We demonstrate our approach on 9 species of underwater colonies in ranging size and morphology. 3D models of underwater colonies, fresh samples and bleached skeletons with high quality texture mapping and detailed topographic morphology were produced, and Surface Area and Volume measurements (parameters widely used for ecological and coral health studies) were calculated and analysed. Moreover, we integrated collected sample models with micro-photogrammetry models of individual corallites to aid identification and colony and polyp scale analysis.
The use of citizen science for scientific discovery relies on the acceptance of this method by the scientific community. Using the Web of Science and Scopus as the source of peer reviewed articles, an analysis of all published articles on “citizen science” confirmed its growth, and found that significant research on methodology and validation techniques preceded the rapid rise of the publications on research outcomes based on citizen science methods. Of considerable interest is the growing number of studies relying on the re-use of collected datasets from past citizen science research projects, which used data from either individual or multiple citizen science projects for new discoveries, such as for climate change research. The extent to which citizen science has been used in scientific discovery demonstrates its importance as a research approach. This broad analysis of peer reviewed papers on citizen science, that included not only citizen science projects, but the theory and methods developed to underpin the research, highlights the breadth and depth of the citizen science approach and encourages cross-fertilization between the different disciplines.
We present a simple, standardized assay, the squidpop, for measuring the relative feeding intensity of generalist predators in aquatic systems. The assay consists of a 1.3-cm diameter disk of dried squid mantle tethered to a rod, which is either inserted in the sediment in soft-bottom habitats or secured to existing structure. Each replicate squidpop is scored as present or absent after 1 and 24 hours, and the data for analysis are proportions of replicate units consumed at each time. Tests in several habitats of the temperate southeastern USA (Virginia and North Carolina) and tropical Central America (Belize) confirmed the assay’s utility for measuring variation in predation intensity among habitats, among seasons, and along environmental gradients. In Belize, predation intensity varied strongly among habitats, with reef > seagrass = mangrove > unvegetated bare sand. Quantitative visual surveys confirmed that assayed feeding intensity increased with abundance and species richness of fishes across sites, with fish abundance and richness explaining up to 45% and 70% of the variation in bait loss respectively. In the southeastern USA, predation intensity varied seasonally, being highest during summer and declining in late autumn. Deployments in marsh habitats generally revealed a decline in mean predation intensity from fully marine to tidal freshwater sites. The simplicity, economy, and standardization of the squidpop assay should facilitate engagement of scientists and citizens alike, with the goal of constructing high-resolution maps of how top-down control varies through space and time in aquatic ecosystems, and addressing a broad array of long-standing hypotheses in macro- and community ecology.
Against the backdrop of a dramatic increase in citizen science activity worldwide, we convened a combined symposium and focus group at the 2014 International Marine Conservation Congress to consider the challenges and opportunities for mobilizing citizen science in the marine and coastal environment. Highlighting the diversity of existing models and approaches to citizen science, participants focused on six different conservation-related outcomes that citizen science projects can potentially support: policy, education, community capacity building, site management, species management, and research. We provide two example case studies of projects and summarize the key themes and recommendations associated with each of those outcomes. The result is a series of “toolkits” that can help to guide new and existing citizen science projects that aim to support management and conservation of ocean resources, as well as providing insights and recommendations to stimulate further research on and assessment of marine and coastal citizen science programs. Citizen science is an effective approach to conservation and it is time for this underutilized resource to become a more prominent approach for marine and coastal conservation.
Increasing fishing pressure and uncertainty surrounding recreational fishing catch and effort data promoted the development of alternative methods for conducting fisheries research. A pilot investigation was undertaken to engage the Australian game fishing community and promote the non-lethal collection of tissue samples from the black marlin Istiompax indica, a valuable recreational-only species in Australian waters, for the purpose of future genetic research. Recruitment of recreational anglers was achieved by publicizing the project in magazines, local newspapers, social media, blogs, websites and direct communication workshops at game fishing tournaments. The Game Fishing Association of Australia and the Queensland Game Fishing Association were also engaged to advertise the project and recruit participants with a focus on those anglers already involved in the tag-and-release of marlin. Participants of the program took small tissue samples using non-lethal methods which were stored for future genetic analysis. The program resulted in 165 samples from 49 participants across the known distribution of I. indica within Australian waters which was a sufficient number to facilitate a downstream population genetic analysis. The project demonstrated the potential for the development of citizen science sampling programs to collect tissue samples using non-lethal methods in order to achieve targeted research objects in recreationally caught species.
Tourism is of growing economical importance to many nations, in particular for developing countries. Although tourism is an important economic vehicle for the host country, its continued growth has led to on-going concerns about its environmental sustainability. Coastal and marine tourism can directly affect the environment through direct and indirect tourist activities. For these reasons tourism sector needs practical actions of sustainability. Several studies have shown how education minimizes the impact on and is proactive for, preserving the natural resources. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of a citizen science program to improve the environmental education of the volunteers, by means of questionnaires provided to participants to a volunteer-based Red Sea coral reef monitoring program (STEproject). Fifteen multiple-choice questions evaluated the level of knowledge on the basic coral reef biology and ecology and the awareness on the impact of human behaviour on the environment. Volunteers filled in questionnaires twice, once at the beginning, before being involved in the project and again at the end of their stay, after several days participation in the program. We found that the participation in STEproject significantly increased both the knowledge of coral reef biology and ecology and the awareness of human behavioural impacts on the environment, but was more effective on the former. We also detected that tourists with a higher education level have a higher initial level of environmental education than less educated people and that the project was more effective on divers than snorkelers. This study has emphasized that citizen science projects have an important and effective educational value and has suggested that tourism and diving stakeholders should increase their commitment and efforts to these programs.
We aimed at unveiling patterns in live and dead manatee sightings in the Lower Sanaga Basin, Cameroon. For this purpose, the expert opinions of 133 local fishers were collected during in-person interviews, distilled using categorical data analysis, and checked against scientific literature. The five main results are as follows: manatees were sighted averagely once a week in lakes, rivers, and the coast & estuaries, mostly in group sizes of 2-3; the odds of sighting live manatees (respectively dead manatees) decreased (respectively increased) from inland lakes to estuaries and the coast, via rivers; manatee carcasses were reported in all habitats, albeit more frequently in rivers; a distribution map based on fishers’ reports show two manatee concentration areas: Lake Ossa and the Malimba-Mbiako section of River Sanaga; the number of manatees was perceived as increasing despite incidental and directed catches. Thus, our findings corroborate earlier assessments of the Lower Sanaga Basin as being a major manatee conservation area. Additionally, from these results and the literature, we identified three hypotheses about local manatee persistence: deep pools such as lakes offer year round sanctuaries, not just dry-season refugia; seasonality of specific habitat variables determine manatee occurrence patterns; and local variability in habitat encroachment mediate the meta-population dynamics of manatee in the Lower Sanaga Basin. Finally, we examine the implications for data requirements in light of the small ecological scale at which the surveyed fishers ply their trade. Thus, consonant with the Malawi principles for the ecosystem approach to management (www.cbd.int/ecosystem), we recommend collecting data preferably at landscape scale, through a participatory monitoring program that fully integrates scientific and traditional knowledge systems. This program should include, amongst others, a standardised necropsy protocol for collecting mortality and biological data together with sonar and radio-telemetry technology to discern manatee use and movements between critical habitat components.
The social and economic benefits of the coastal zone make it one of the most treasured environments on our planet. Yet it is vulnerable to increasing anthropogenic pressure and climate change. Coastal management aims to mitigate these pressures while augmenting the socio-economic benefits the coastal region has to offer. However, coastal management is challenged by inadequate sampling of key environmental indicators, partly due to issues relating to cost of data collection. Here, we investigate the use of recreational surfers as platforms to improve sampling coverage of environmental indicators in the coastal zone. We equipped a recreational surfer, based in the south west United Kingdom (UK), with a temperature sensor and Global Positioning System (GPS) device that they used when surfing for a period of one year (85 surfing sessions). The temperature sensor was used to derive estimates of sea-surface temperature (SST), an important environmental indicator, and the GPS device used to provide sample location and to extract information on surfer performance. SST data acquired by the surfer were compared with data from an oceanographic station in the south west UK and with satellite observations. Our results demonstrate: (i) high-quality SST data can be acquired by surfers using low cost sensors; and (ii) GPS data can provide information on surfing performance that may help motivate data collection by surfers. Using recent estimates of the UK surfing population, and frequency of surfer participation, we speculate around 40 million measurements on environmental indicators per year could be acquired at the UK coastline by surfers. This quantity of data is likely to enhance coastal monitoring and aid UK coastal management. Considering surfing is a world-wide sport, our results have global implications and the approach could be expanded to other popular marine recreational activities for coastal monitoring of environmental indicators.