**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
We are happy to welcome Amy Freitag to the Ocean Science Trust! As a Science Integration Fellow, Amy will play an invaluable role in advancing our understanding of the potential role that citizen science can play in MPA monitoring. Amy’s wealth of experience includes time as a citizen scientist, a coordinator of citizen science, and a researcher investigating citizen science. In this post she reflects on a few important lessons from that time.
I’d like to introduce myself as the newest member of the California Citizen Science Initiative (CCSI) at OST. Through my role here, I will investigate from a birds-eye view how citizen science can and does contribute to successful management of marine protected areas in the central coast of California. I’ve always thought at this organizational level, but I’ve never had the chance to work in an area with such a vibrant network of existing citizen science groups. Instead, my most recent work facilitated collaborative research as a means to tap into the potential of diverse experiences and expertises for estuarine conservation.
Through this research, I worked closely with fishers, scientists, and policymakers in North Carolina. The coast supports, in addition to its well-known tourism, a wide network of small-scale fishing operations that have history stretching back centuries. Like many other coastal regions, the shallow estuaries are changing, made evident by altered fish stocks, different biotic community structure, and shifting ecosystem services such as storm buffering. Declining water quality underwrites many of these changes and is therefore a commonly agreed-upon point for needed management and further research. I wanted to see what sort of applied research we could collectively come up with to address these concerns.
Grouper/snapper fisher and owner of Blue Ocean Seafood Market helps deploy water quality monitors in places he’s seen impacts. Photo credit: Amy Freitag.
As a means of looking backward to my previous work and looking forward to inform my future work, I’ll introduce myself through some “lessons learned” in my role as facilitator of a small citizen science program focused on coastal water quality.
1. The term ‘citizen science’ bothers some people. I cringe a little every time I hear myself say it, but continue to use it because it’s a term that people generally know. Yet, many participants are neither citizen nor scientist. They fill a role in the world as a particular kind of expert, be that about a particular place, a kind of fish, or storykeeper of a community. It’s hard to find a term that encompasses such complexity within an individual.
2. Volunteering is not all or nothing. People’s lives fluctuate, and programs should accommodate them. In the world of working with fishermen, a burnt-out engine or shift in permitting is going to change their daily schedule. And other participants may have new children, elder care, or other life commitments crop up. Conversely, participants may have talked up the program at church or to their neighbors, recruiting new members. This is especially important for long-term monitoring, where participant ebb and flow can’t leave a hole in information gathering.
Blue crabs sorted by size and sex for market, while taking data on yield, health of the crab, and tissue samples. Participation in this portion of the study was easy for fishers because it didn’t add too many tasks during their busy fishing day. They decided later to stop participating because group meetings were too far from their rural home. Photo credit: Amy Freitag.
3. Stick to the advertising advice of ‘communicate something 7 times before you count it as digested’. Multiple formats also help – for posting meeting information, disseminating results, and other logistics in web, snail-mail, or whatever fits the lifestyle of volunteers best. And for anyone adding additional tasks to a volunteer’s agenda (as we will be doing here at OST), a reminder guru is necessary to keep program activities at the top of volunteers’ mind. With the CCSI, we will try to be creative, responsive, and diligent about communicating with our partners in multiple formats. This blog, and our OceanSpaces community page are two initial examples, with more to come.
4. Curiosity does not kill the cat. Never discount the motivation of some participants just to find out more about the world they live in. This curiosity keeps participants active, so I provide individual data back to them and summaries of their personal accomplishments. It’s easy for these goals to get lost in the larger program missions of solid monitoring data and informing management, but I’ve found that attention to personal detail goes a long way in creating a community of scientifically-minded friends instead of a loose network of data collectors. For example, with the CCSI, we are not just building monitoring capacity, we’re also building community and social capital.
5. Credit participants in your world and theirs. Part of what citizen science does so well is cross the boundaries between the public, science, and policy, so make sure that strength is carried through to project products. For my work, this has meant stakeholder authorship of academic publications and my signature on their public comment for a related policy. As a collaborative endeavor, you are jointly responsible for ownership of those results and ensuring benefits are shared across the different types of participants evenly. This is even more challenging in a broader network like the CCSI, where we will be actively seeking ways to appropriately honor the contributions of everyone involved.