The Value of ‘Citizen Science’

Written by on December 4, 2012 in Other News, Policy & Ocean Law

A recent review of over 230 “citizen science” projects highlights their important contribution to research and policy. The review was commissioned by the UK Environmental Observation Framework (UK-EOF).

Citizen science projects are ones that ask for (or require) the help of the general public. In many cases, the volunteers do not need any training and much of the work can be done online, so field work isn’t a requirement.

The researchers reviewed 234 projects and made several conclusions:

  • new technology (social media, smart phones) is “revolutionizing citizen science”
  • data quality can be excellent, although it is not recognized as legitimate by all researchers and policymakers
  • it is very cost-effective
  • there is great potential for citizen science projects to expand

“The development of communication technologies through the internet offers many new options which will help even more people to get involved in contributing information for monitoring our environment, which is under increasing pressure,” project leader Dr. Helen Roy, an ecologist from Nerc Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), told BBC News.

Jellywatch, a citizen science project that invites the public to report any sightings of jellyfish, squids or red tides to help with a long-term dataset.

Jellywatch, a citizen science project that invites the public to report any sightings of jellyfish, squids or red tides to help with a long-term dataset. Photo credit: Ondablv via photopin cc

If you’re interested in joining a ‘citizen science’ project, here’s a list of some of the best ocean-based projects we could find:

  1. ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-Identification: online–a place to submit photos of whale sharks that can be used to identify, track and learn more about them
  2. Jellywatch: international–contribute to a long-term dataset by recording and submitting any jellyfish, squid or red tide sightings along with a description or photo of the condition of the beach
  3. Leatherback Watch Program: US, west coast–help scientists by recording and reporting all sightings of leatherback sea turtles
  4. Recording Invasive Species Counts: UK–designed to find out more about the distribution and ecology of non-native species, both on land and in the water
  5. Seafloor Explorer: online–help identify species and ground cover in images of the seafloor (we’ve written about this one)
  6. The Shore Thing: UK–works with schools and other volunteers to record information about the marine life of rocky shores around Britain as a way to help predict future changes
  7. The Whale Song Project: online–help researchers learn more about whale communication by listening to clips of whales and finding the short clip that matches it best

Have you participated in a citizen science project? Tell us about it in the comments section, below!

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Thanks so much for posting about citizen science. I am sharing it with my audiences on social media: people who love the oceans & want to upgrade their lives.
    As a trained fish ecologist who has gone into coaching, it’s great to know I can still get involved in science projects.

  2. Emily says:

    Thanks for your comment, Mhairi. Let us know if you end up getting involved in a cool, ocean-based citizen science project! We would love to hear about it.