Effective conservation of the oceans relies largely on long-term monitoring of key species and habitats over wide geographical areas. This is notoriously difficult due to the high cost of such programs. As a consequence, we find ourselves with data ‘cold-spots’, areas for which we have little or no information. Citizen science, aka the involvement of volunteers or non-specialised people in science, is an increasingly popular way of conducting monitoring of species and ecosystems over a large geographical scale and time periods, therefore reducing the number of cold-spots.
In the Red Sea, citizen science is helping scientists collect information on endangered marine turtles.
This approach is particularly useful in countries and areas for which limited human and economic resources are available for conservation.
Aware of the potential of citizen science, over the last few years several institutions in the Mediterranean launched projects such as MedMIS, InfoMedusa, PERSEUS Marine LitterWatch, MEDOBS-SUB, Project Thalassa or the Alboran Geoportal, to name but a few. These projects aim to collect important information on invasive species, jellyfish blooms, endangered species, human impact and marine spatial planning, relying on the collaboration and support of a network of concerned citizens.
Some on-going marine citizen science projects around the world. © freepik from Faticon
While the value and potential of citizen participation in data collection is well understood, it is also important to consider some of the challenges that collaborative science projects present, including how to keep people interested and informed about project progress, how to assess data quality, or how to best collect data.
Using the above mentioned projects as starting point for discussion, the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation (IUCN-Med) in cooperation with the Spanish IUCN National Committee and some experts from the Species Survival Commission will host an event during the upcoming World Conservation Congress to talk about the potential of citizen science to obtain high-quality data from understudied regions and to improve our knowledge of marine species and ecosystems.
For more information on this event, please see our event page.
Do you know of more citizen science projects? Please let us know by filing in our online survey available here.