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Citizen Science – what is it and why is it important?

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

The concept of citizen science involves the participation of volunteers acting as field assistants in scientific studies. These volunteers are members of the public who are not necessarily qualified researchers or scientists.

Scuba divers taking part in marine turtles monitoring and conservation through the citizen science program RED SEA TURTLES PROJECT™

This inclusive research framework allows anyone to participate, from children to adults. In advance of collecting data, volunteers are often educated and trained in the scientific skills, concepts and knowledge needed to participate in the research, these protocols allow everyday people to participate in ‘real science’. Professional scientists work alongside these volunteers, normally leading the research, measuring, testing and assessing the final data in order to ensure it is accurate and reliable. This collaboration between professional and citizen scientists allows the development of data sets, spanning large geographical areas or collected over long time periods, something which would be difficult for professionals to do alone.

RED SEA PROJECT™ team member introducing recreational divers to the best practices and techniques prior to an underwater cleanup as a part of the citizen science program Dive Against Debris®. This is a 'fins on' action for the ocean, collecting critical survey data from any or every dive that can be used by marine researchers and policymakers for conservation efforts.

Why is citizen science so important and gaining increased acknowledgement, in particular within environmental research?

The key point is that both researchers and participants benefit from citizen science. Not only are datasets generated that aid further understanding, protection and management of the environment, helping analysis of spatial and temporal trends; but participants are also educated on key scientific concepts, allowing them to enhance their science-related skill sets, behavior change and increased awareness of environmental challenges. Citizen science projects are also known to build communities, with a diverse audience encouraging further engagement with topics such as biodiversity and conservation. In RED SEA PROJECT™, we have adopted the concept of citizen science. Acknowledging the benefits and positive outcomes of involving the public within our research, we encourage anyone visiting The Red Sea to participate.

Our research team is currently carrying out regular surveys using CoralWatch standard permanent transect method. A permanent transect will give us the opportunity to monitor the same corals over time. CoralWatch is a not-for-profit citizen science program based at The University of Queensland working with volunteers worldwide to increase understanding of coral reefs, coral bleaching and climate change.

The Red Sea has a unique array of marine habitats and ecosystems, holding host to a diversity of species including sea turtles, dugongs, dolphins and sting rays. Our aim is to develop the best methods, management techniques and actions to protect these ecosystems, allowing future generations to continue to experience the diverse wonders of the underwater world and the ecosystem services they provide to communities both locally and globally. In order to do this, we require vast quantities of data, helping us identify the health of these ecosystems, the presence of marine life and how species are responding to the damage inflicted within coastal areas.

With the data on sightings that citizen scientists provide through Reporting sightings of turtles, dolphins, dugongs or sharks to our researchers can capture migration patterns, determine home ranges, and detect new breeding grounds of a species. This will also further provide government agencies the necessary data to establish sanctuary zones or seasonal area closures. Documenting sightings of endangered species can also offer a unique opportunity for the public to glimpse rare species.

This could be during a dive, snorkel or just walking along the beach – the key with citizen science is each and every encounter matters and can add to our data. This could be in the form of a record of what you have seen, or a photograph/video.

We also encourage reporting of marine debris – this is important to develop a deeper understanding of what threatens the health of marine habitats, aiding our conversations with the authorities to encourage better management, planning and policies in regard to marine debris.

Sometimes identification of species is tricky, especially when there are first-time reports. Download the FREE digital conservation tools including identification charts from the E-Library

The information you share with us through Report sightings will be added to our growing database and shared directly with the local experts to be analyzed and filtered then shared as (PUBLIC SOURCE) with the community. This will help us better conduct our marine protection work in the Red Sea.

The RED SEA PROJECT™ team works tirelessly to promote better understanding of the Marine Ecosystems through our programs, engaging with local communities, students, special education groups and our social media platform. we have developed individual projects which help introduce the public to the concept of citizen science, growing your knowledge on our projects and the work we do, as well as allowing you to engage in conservation programs.

Learn more:

Whether you are visiting The Red Sea to relax, dive or just enjoy the wonders of the ocean, we encourage you to participate in one our citizen science projects. How would it feel to contribute towards the conservation of the marine life you have seen whilst visiting The Red Sea?

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