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Introduction: What is citizen science and why do we do it?
In general, citizen science is when members of the public collect data, either for themselves, or to make it available to scientists, governments, or other organisations. This data can be anything from photos of birds, fungi, or mammals, to long-term observations of climate change, erosion or sedimentation. Citizen Science is something that people of all ages and back grounds can do.
There are many different reasons why someone might do citizen science. This includes to satisfy their own curiosity, collect information for research, and to inform government and local planning authorities. Did you know that data that you collect in your area could be used to help authorities make good decisions, be it regarding developments, areas of high road kill frequency, or the location of threatened species? For many threatened species and ecosystems, citizen science collects information that is vital for their protection and survival.
This webpage will take you through all steps that are part of citizen science: 1. How to make an observation, 2. How to identify an observation, and 3. How to upload an observation into databases where it is available for scientists an authorities to use further.
So now that you know what citizen science is, how do you get started? Well, the main thing to do is to go out and about, to listen and to look, and then to record what you find!
What you look at is up to you. Some people and groups have an area that they are particularly interested in, such as birds, fungi, or invasive species. Some information, however, can be particularly important, for example on threatened species or the location of threats such as weeds or Phytophthora dieback. Have a look here some ideas of already existing citizen science projects.
An easy and commonly used way to record what you see is through an app called iNaturalist. Skip to this section to read about it.
You can also connect to your local Landcare group, who will often have information sessions and field days, and know what needs to be done locally. Facebook has many interest groups, such as on birds or weeds, that can help with identifying observations you made.
Are you ready to learn more? Just continue exploring this webpage!
Ethics, Laws and Regulations
Please be conscious that you are interacting with a natural environment, and be respectful of it. There are some monitoring techniques that are more invasive than others. For example, you can simply put a monitoring camera out and wait, or you can also put some bait in front of the camera to attract animals. There is no generally accepted view on this, and we cannot tell you what is right or wrong. What we are recommending is to be aware of your impact, as you potentially inflict stress on animals, alter their behaviour or damage plants. Keep your impact at a minimum. Think about whether for what you are doing the benefits outweigh the negatives, and whether you could reach a good outcome also with less invasive monitoring techniques.
Another ethical topic is around the data that you collect. As the information you provide is potentially used for research and official purposes, it is crucial to be accurate and honest. It will happen very often that you are not sure what you have seen or heard. In that case it is very important to report exactly that, you are not sure.
You can head over to the Citizen Science Association to find out more about ethics.
Be aware of most relevant laws and regulations. Obviously, you don't want to trespass on private property. You also cannot handle threatened animals or plants, or take anything from national parks.
The NRM South guide on Ethical Nature Photography in Tasmania is a very good resource for further guidance.
Always look after your safety and the safety of others. When venturing out in the bush, take your usual precautions. Be prepared for bad weather, tell someone know where you are going, take a map, compass and ideally a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).