**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
Beyond the traditional institutions of science lies a vast array of motivated, talented individuals engaging in the world around them through citizen science, and there may be even more waiting in the wings. From high-tech crowd-sourced observing systems to community-based local experiments, there are many approaches to engaging citizens in scientific endeavors. The California coast is home to an impressive diversity of such projects and programs–an indicator of our thriving, diverse, and engaged coastal citizenry.
Among many other things, citizen science projects generate new knowledge and data. At the same time managers need to gather information about the condition of marine protected areas (MPAs), and assess their effectiveness in achieving their management goals.
Therein lies the potential opportunity. Can citizen scientists provide the rigorous scientific information needed to monitor and manage our statewide network of MPAs? Will managers use this information? Will decision-makers view it as credible knowledge on which to base a decision? This post marks the beginning of an initiative exploring ways that citizen science programs can become effective and credible partners in long-term monitoring. I’m excited to be launching this collaborative effort. In the coming months, we’ll be convening conversations, and conducting research to expand our understanding of how citizen science can play a role in cost-efficient, and sustainable long-term monitoring of MPAs.
We already know that this can work well in specific cases. At the recent Central Coast Symposium, Jan Freiwald shared his experience with Reef Check – an organization which leads SCUBA diving citizen scientists in monitoring kelp forest ecosystems. Data collected by these citizen scientists over the past 5 years was an important contributor to the baseline monitoring results. The program requires significant training, and a highly structured approach to data collection. Moreover, the data have been examined thoroughly by scientists, and even compared with the results of the academic research.
From the standpoint of state decision makers using citizen science data, Reef Check California is one model of success. We need to examine it to understand how and why it has been successful. How has this linkage benefited the Reef Check program and its volunteers? How could it work better? Is it sustainable? Are parts of it transferable to other habitats or topics, such as human uses?
We’re fortunate to already work alongside many other citizen science groups engaging in baseline monitoring, incuding LiMPETS, Beach Watch and collaborative fisheries programs. But as we turn the turn the page from baseline to ongoing monitoring, now is the time to learn from these experiences, look beyond California for models of success and, ultimately, deepen the participation of citizen science programs in California’s ocean stewardship and management.
Watch this space for more discussion of the challenge of linking citizen science with adaptive management, and we hope you’ll contribute your views to the discussion. Visit our project page on OceanSpaces to learn more about the California Citizen Science Initiative, and how you can get involved!