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The Importance of Citizen Science to Protect the Ocean

Article by GVI


Posted: May 14, 2023

Oceans are the lifeblood of our planet, covering more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and providing a home to a vast array of marine life. However, with increased human activity and climate change, the health of our oceans is at risk. This is where citizen science comes in.

Ocean citizen science is a way for everyday people to get involved in collecting and analysing data that can help scientists better understand and protect our oceans. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of ocean citizen science, what it involves, and key areas of research that citizen scientists can contribute to.

Understanding Ocean Citizen Science

What is Ocean Citizen Science?

Ocean citizen science is a branch of citizen science that specifically focuses on the oceans. It involves members of the public collecting and submitting data about ocean conditions, wildlife, and other aspects of the marine environment. The data is then used by scientists to further their research and gain a greater understanding of the oceans and how they are changing over time.

There are many different ways that citizen scientists can contribute to ocean research. Some may participate in beach cleanups and record the types and amounts of litter they find. Others may take photographs of marine life and submit them to online databases. Others may collect water samples to measure pH levels, temperature, and other important indicators of ocean health.

The Role of Citizen Scientists in Ocean Research

The role of citizen scientists in ocean research is crucial. While professional scientists can collect vast amounts of data about the oceans, they are limited by time, funding, and manpower. This is where citizen scientists come in. By contributing their time and effort to collecting data, citizen scientists can greatly increase the amount of information available to researchers. This can help scientists identify trends, monitor changes over time, and ultimately make more informed decisions about how to protect the oceans.

Citizen science projects also have the potential to engage and educate members of the public about the importance of ocean conservation. By involving people in the process of data collection and analysis, citizen science can help to build a sense of ownership and responsibility for the oceans among participants. This can lead to increased awareness and advocacy for ocean conservation efforts.

One example of a successful ocean citizen science project is the Ocean Observers program, run by the Marine Conservation Institute. This program engages volunteers in collecting data about marine protected areas around the world. Participants use satellite imagery to identify and map the boundaries of these areas, as well as record observations about the types of habitats and wildlife found within them. This data is then used to inform conservation efforts and policy decisions.

The Importance of Ocean Health

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

The health of the oceans is vital for the survival of countless species of marine life. Biodiversity is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems, and the oceans are home to a vast number of unique species. Furthermore, marine ecosystems provide valuable services to humans, such as regulating the climate, producing oxygen, and providing food and other resources.

Climate Regulation and Carbon Sequestration

Healthy oceans are essential for regulating the Earth’s climate. Oceans absorb heat and carbon dioxide, which helps to regulate the temperature of the planet and mitigate the effects of climate change. In fact, the oceans absorb around 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activity.

Socioeconomic Benefits

The oceans also have immense socioeconomic value. They support industries such as fishing, transport, and tourism, all of which contribute significantly to the global economy. However, these industries also put stress on the oceans, making it important to work towards sustainable practices.

Key Areas of Ocean Citizen Science

Marine Debris and Plastic Pollution

One of the biggest threats to ocean health is plastic pollution. Citizen scientists can help monitor the levels and types of plastic debris found in the ocean, as well as their impact on wildlife and the environment. By collecting data on the types and sources of plastic pollution, citizen scientists can help policymakers make informed decisions on how to reduce plastic waste.

Water Quality Monitoring

Citizen scientists can also help monitor the quality of ocean water, including factors such as salinity, temperature, and levels of pollutants. This can help identify areas of the ocean that need protection or remediation due to environmental damage.

Coastal Habitat Restoration

Coastal habitats, such as mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass beds, are essential for marine biodiversity and provide valuable services such as shoreline protection. Citizen scientists can help monitor the health and restoration of these habitats by collecting data on factors such as water quality, sediment composition, and vegetation cover.

Marine Species Observations

Citizen scientists can also contribute to monitoring and understanding marine species, including threatened and endangered species. By collecting data on species abundance, distribution, and behaviour, citizen scientists can help identify important habitats and areas for protection.

The Benefits of Participating in Ocean Citizen Science

Enhancing Scientific Knowledge and Data Collection

Participating in ocean citizen science can be an educational and enriching experience. Citizen scientists can learn about ocean science and research methods, as well as contribute their data to meaningful research projects. Their contributions can help scientists gain a better understanding of ocean health and inform conservation efforts.

Fostering Environmental Stewardship

By participating in ocean citizen science, individuals can become more connected to the oceans and develop a deeper understanding of the importance of protecting them. This can create a sense of environmental stewardship and encourage individuals to make sustainable choices that benefit the oceans.

Building Community Connections

It can also help build connections between people and their communities. By working together on collaborative projects, citizen scientists can build relationships and create networks of people who are passionate about ocean conservation.

Personal Growth and Skill Development

Participating in ocean citizen science can help individuals develop new skills and gain confidence in their abilities. Whether it’s learning to identify different species of marine life, collecting and analyzing data, or communicating science to others, citizen science can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience that promotes personal growth.

Joining marine citizen science programs

GVI offers a variety of citizen science volunteer programs where you can play your part to protect the ocean. Common marine conservation projects include beach cleanups, water quality testing, habitat restoration, collecting data on species diversity, adding scientific observations to online databases, and surveying land use practices. All of these activities allow individuals to directly contribute to the advancement of scientific understanding related to the ocean.

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