By Katharine Sucher, Staff Writer
At the 2014 International Marine Conservation Congress, a project team including Virginia Sea Grant postgraduate fellow Amy Freitag convened a focus group to consider challenges and opportunities related to expanding citizen science in marine and coastal environments.
Citizen science refers to any research project that engages the general public in collecting, categorizing, transcribing, or analyzing scientific data. While citizen science has become increasingly popular around the world in recent years, the approach remains underutilized for marine and coastal conservation.
This is due in part to the unique challenges associated with marine and coastal systems. In many cases, access for citizen scientists is more difficult than on land, perhaps requiring expensive boats or diving gear, or simply transportation to the coast. Safety and liability issues are also a concern.
Despite these challenges, citizen science could increase the scope and scale of marine and coastal conservation efforts. Previous citizen science projects have recruited the public to monitor reef systems and species, observe and categorize whale calls, track marine debris and invasive species, and more. Collaboration between researchers and the public has also been shown to increase stakeholder investment in coastal and marine conservation research.
Based on discussions in the focus group, the project team developed six toolkits to serve as foundations for marine and coastal conservation-related citizen science projects. Each toolkit focuses on a different conservation outcome–among them, policy change, educational outcomes, community outcomes, species management outcomes, and research outcomes. Each toolkit sets out guidelines and recommendations and identifies the considerations or challenges presented by its subject.
More details about this project and each toolkit can be found here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0964569115001659