[Ecoaction] How I Use Citizen Science to Help

By Chandra Clarke

“Citizen science” is where real people like you and me can do real science to help solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Even if you never finished high school!

It works like this: a scientist, or group of scientists, will set up a project where they either need data collected, or data analysed. They’ll set up a website, and/or an app, write up some instructions on how to do the work, open it to the public, and voila! There’s a citizen science project.

My favourite citizen science project is called iNaturalist, which is a joint project of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. It’s a project where you can you can upload your observations of natural things (insects, flowers, animals, other plants), meet other nature lovers, and learn more about the natural world.

Here’s how it works: You download the iNaturalist app to your phone. Then you snap pictures using the app, and upload them to their site. If you know what it is you’ve photographed, you can make an identification. If you don’t, no worries! The community will help identify it, and you’ll get a notice when they do, which means you can learn as you go.

How does this help save the planet? By observing and documenting the world around you, you’re helping scientists learn more about the environment and track plant, insect, and animal species. They can learn where species are thriving, and where they’re noticeably absent. They can get a bead on whether there’s invasive species and how far they’ve spread. It might also help us in the future, as we work to restore habitats and revive populations.

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