Marine legislation is becoming ever more complex, so new cost-effective ways of obtaining and processing increasingly large data sets are required to support evidence-based policy making. Citizen science is one solution, but the uptake of the evidence generated by citizens among policy makers is often limited. Here, the importance of citizen science in delivery of the evidence-base that underpins marine policy was assessed using a series of case-studies. There was no consistent rationale for developing policy-relevant citizen science, but drivers included: lack of existing data, difficulty in collecting data by other means, the use of citizen science data by other organisations, and the capabilities of volunteers. Challenges to the uptake of marine citizen science were identified from policy-maker, scientist and citizen perspectives, and these related to data quality, data access, motivation of volunteers, and physical location. Citizen science has good potential to contribute to the evidence-base alongside traditional monitoring, remote sensing, and modelling, but only if outputs from citizen science projects are judged individually on quality. If this is the case, citizen science has an important role in delivery and understanding of future marine policy, but is only one part of an integrated solution.
Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing
Citizen science is increasing and can complement the work of professional scientists, but the value of citizen data is often untested. We therefore compared the long-term changes to coral reefs that were detected by a professional and volunteer monitoring program, operated by University of Rhode Island (URI) staff and Reef Check volunteers, respectively. Both groups monitored reefs in the British Virgin Islands from 1997 to 2012 but mostly monitored different sites (URI 8 sites and Reef Check 4 sites). When URI staff visited the Reef Check sites to perform a side-by-side to comparison, Reef Check fish density estimates were consistently higher than those made by URI observers but benthic indicators showed better agreement. When long-term trends were compared, the two programs detected qualitatively similar trends in the % cover of live coral and coral rubble, but temporal changes in the cover of other benthic indicators were less consistent. The URI program detected a widespread increase in parrotfish densities and a decline in snappers, whereas the Reef Check surveys detected no consistent changes in any fish density indicators. Overall, site-specific temporal trends revealed by the URI program were more often statistically significant than those from Reef Check (twice as often for benthic taxa, and five times as often for fish taxa), which implies greater precision of the scientists’ counts. Nonetheless, volunteers were able to detect important changes in benthic communities and so have a valuable role to play in assessing change on coral reefs.
In the Citizen Science SCUBA baseline project, citizen scientists and staff in the Reef Check California Program conducted SCUBA‐based surveys of the South Coast MPAs and reference sites to provide a quantitative assessment of rocky reefs and kelp forests.
Divers estimated density, population size, diversity, trophic structure, and biological habitat availability for key fish, invertebrate, and algae species. Researchers also drew on Reef Check California’s existing dataset to provide historical context for ongoing data collection. Data collected as part of this project were used to make recommendations for long-term monitoring. The project also built capacity for cost-effective long-term monitoring through a community network of citizen scientists.
It is now common for researchers in natural resource management and economics to develop spatial models of recreation demand for the purposes of valuation and planning. Such an approach has significant advantages but requires access to relatively detailed spatial data. In the absence of official data concerning resources, researchers may benefit from employing increasingly available volunteered geographic information (VGI) as a central source of data or to complement more traditional data sources. This paper describes the development of a map of forest recreational resources in Ireland by combining conventional forest cover data and VGI of recreational trails. As an extension the new map is combined with household survey data to explore respondent's ability to identify local recreational forests and models the impact of the characteristics of the closest forest on their annual visitation. The results suggest that VGI can be a useful resource to researchers in both the identification and characterisation of recreational resources. In addition, this paper finds that the distance to and characteristics of the nearest recreational forest has a significant impact on total annual visitation by members of the public.
Marine spatial planning (MSP) is becoming increasingly used in the sustainable management of marine and coastal ecosystems. However, limitations on time and resources often restrict the data available for MSP and limit public engagement and participation in the MSP process. While citizen science is being increasingly used to provide fine-scale environmental data across large terrestrial planning areas, there has been little uptake in MSP to date. This paper demonstrates how consistent citizen observations can be used to identify hotspots of good and poor environmental health across a MSP region, and where environmental health has improved or degraded in the past five years; information that is difficult to obtain by other means. The study demonstrates how citizen science provides valuable insight into environmental health across a MSP region, while fostering a supportive space for the public to contribute their own observations and participate in the planning process.
Citizen science – public participation of non-scientists in scientific research – has become an important tool for monitoring and evaluating local and global environmental change. Citizen science projects have been shown to enable large-scale data collection, increase scientific literacy, and monitor environmental quality. However, few studies have examined the individual-level motivations and impacts of citizen science participation. We employ an exploratory multi-method approach (on-line surveys, a focus-group session, informal interviews, and descriptive statements) to evaluate the experiences of citizen scientists volunteering with two conservation organizations based in Bangalore, India. Our findings suggest that citizen science may contribute to increased environmental awareness among the general public. In particular, we identify a three-step process whereby highly motivated individuals, or environmental opinion leaders, seek out citizen science opportunities due to an interest in one or more environmental issues; gain expertise through citizen science participation; and diffuse acquired skills and knowledge to peers through social networks, education of other non-scientist Indian citizens, and/or changes in career or education trajectories. As a result, citizen scientists in India promote environmental principles through an active environmental advocacy network.
Fishery management measures to reduce interactions between fisheries and endangered or threatened species have typically relied on static time-area closures. While these efforts have reduced interactions, they can be costly and inefficient for managing highly migratory species such as sea turtles. The NOAA TurtleWatch product was created in 2006 as a tool to reduce the rates of interactions of loggerhead sea turtles with shallow-set longline gear deployed by the Hawaii-based pelagic longline fishery targeting swordfish. TurtleWatch provides information on loggerhead habitat and can be used by managers and industry to make dynamic management decisions to potentially reduce incidentally capturing turtles during fishing operations. TurtleWatch is expanded here to include information on endangered leatherback turtles to help reduce incidental capture rates in the central North Pacific. Fishery-dependent data were combined with fishing effort, bycatch and satellite tracking data of leatherbacks to characterize sea surface temperature (SST) relationships that identify habitat or interaction ‘hotspots’. Analysis of SST identified two zones, centered at 17.2° and 22.9°C, occupied by leatherbacks on fishing grounds of the Hawaii-based swordfish fishery. This new information was used to expand the TurtleWatch product to provide managers and industry near real-time habitat information for both loggerheads and leatherbacks. The updated TurtleWatch product provides a tool for dynamic management of the Hawaii-based shallow-set fishery to aid in the bycatch reduction of both species. Updating the management strategy to dynamically adapt to shifts in multi-species habitat use through time is a step towards an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management in pelagic ecosystems.
The collective impact of humans on biodiversity rivals mass extinction events defining Earth’s history, but does our large population also present opportunities to document and contend with this crisis? We provide the first quantitative review of biodiversity-related citizen science to determine whether data collected by these projects can be, and are currently being, effectively used in biodiversity research. We find strong evidence of the potential of citizen science: within projects we sampled (n = 388), ∼1.3 million volunteers participate, contributing up to $2.5 billion in-kind annually. These projects exceed most federally-funded studies in spatial and temporal extent, and collectively they sample a breadth of taxonomic diversity. However, only 12% of the 388 projects surveyed obviously provide data to peer-reviewed scientific articles, despite the fact that a third of these projects have verifiable, standardized data that are accessible online. Factors influencing publication included project spatial scale and longevity and having publically available data, as well as one measure of scientific rigor (taxonomic identification training). Because of the low rate at which citizen science data reach publication, the large and growing citizen science movement is likely only realizing a small portion of its potential impact on the scientific research community. Strengthening connections between professional and non-professional participants in the scientific process will enable this large data resource to be better harnessed to understand and address global change impacts on biodiversity.
A significant barrier to the use of public participation GIS (PPGIS) and crowd-sourcing for conservation planning is uncertainty about the quality of the spatial data generated. This study examines the quality of PPGIS data for use in conservation planning. We evaluate two dimensions of spatial data quality, positional accuracy and data completeness using empirical PPGIS data from a statewide study of public lands in Victoria, Australia. Using an expert-derived spatial conservation model for Victoria as a benchmark, we quantify the performance of a crowd-sourced public in their capacity to accurately and comprehensively identify areas of high conservation importance in the PPGIS process. About 70% of PPGIS points that identified biological/conservation values were spatially coincident (position accurate) with modeled areas of high conservation importance, with greater accuracy associated with locations in existing protected areas. PPGIS data had less positional accuracy when participants identified biological values in urban areas and on non-public lands in general. The PPGIS process did not comprehensively identify all the largest, contiguous areas of high conservation importance in the state, missing about 20% of areas, primarily on small public land units in less densely populated regions of the state. Preferences for increased conservation/protection were over-represented in areas proximate to the Melbourne urban area and under-represented in more remote statewide locations. Our results indicate that if PPGIS data is to be integrated into spatial models for conservation planning, it is important to account for the spatial accuracy and completeness limitations identified in this study (i.e., urban areas, non-public lands, and smaller remote locations). The spatial accuracy and completeness of PPGIS data in this study suggests spatial data quality may be “good enough” to complement biological data in conservation planning but perhaps not good enough to overcome the mistrust associated with crowd-sourced knowledge. Recommendations to improve PPGIS data quality for prospective conservation planning applications are discussed.
The User's Guide for Evaluating Learning Outcomes from Citizen Science was developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology researchers for practitioners who want to evaluate learning outcomes from their citizen science projects. It includes a practical overview of evaluation techniques, tips, and best-practices for conducting evaluations, a glossary of terms, and an extensive set of templates and worksheets to help with evaluation planning and implementation.
Evaluating learning outcomes is a high priority for citizen science practitioners, but many find it to be challenging. We want this guide to make evaluation easy to understand - and easy to execute!