Featured News Citizen scientists getting it right

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Thu, 16 Jun 2022

Citizen scientists getting it right

Image: Jonathan Gallegos

Researchers say volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ have proven just as reliable as professional scientists in collecting basic data and may be a valuable resource for monitoring change in marine environments.

Dr Abbi Scott from James Cook University was part of a study that compared data collected from 12 sites by citizen scientists against data from the same sites collected by professional scientists.

“In recent decades, citizen science, widely defined as public participation in scientific research, has emerged as a powerful and cost-effective means of generating extensive ecological data sets.

“The problem is citizen science has yet to be fully embraced as a valid means of scientific investigation primarily due to concerns regarding data quality. We wanted to find out how reliable citizen scientists’ observations are,” said Dr Scott.

The researchers compared field estimates of algal percentage cover generated by different observer units (trained citizen scientists, professional scientists, and combined units), and digitally derived estimates.

“The results show that in the field, citizen scientists given a straightforward task such as estimating algal cover – rather than, for instance, the more challenging task of identifying different algal types - generated data similar to those of professional scientists,” said Dr Scott.

She said the success of the citizen scientists was likely due to the fact that all attended an effective one-day training session as part of the Capturing our Coast marine citizen science project, the task was simple, and they received ongoing support from project staff.

“Current and future citizen science projects, including those on land, would benefit from adopting similar approaches. This is the kind of reliable, large scale baseline information and monitoring that is going to be needed more if we are to detect and fully understand the impact of increasing stressors on marine ecosystems,” said Dr Scott.

Capturing our Coast was a three-year collaborative project that brought together a range of universities, charities and volunteers to investigate the diversity of marine life along UK coastlines. The project was funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund.


Dr Abbi Scott
E: abbi.scott1@jcu.edu.au